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Elevating pro athletes has hurt America today

Sports columnist Jason Whitlock devotes the latest edition of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis to a key failure of American sports.

Nearly 30 years ago, in a 1993 Nike commercial, professional basketball legend Charles Barkley fired the first shot at the “role model” concept popularized by Columbia University sociologist Robert K. Merton in the aftermath of the 1960s counterculture movement. “I am not a role model,” Barkley proclaimed in the half-minute spot. “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

Barkley’s words landed with a force every bit the equal of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem knee 23 years later. Former Vice President Dan Quayle defended Barkley, while Barkley’s fellow NBA superstar Karl Malone criticized him in Sports Illustrated. …

… [I]n retrospect, the elevation of athletes and other celebrities as primary figures in the formation of behavioral norms for young people helped create the conditions that are powering the destructive Black Lives Matter movement today.

Merton’s role model concept undercuts the importance of parents and nuclear families. That was the point of Barkley’s criticism. Feminists and other progressive critics of America’s “patriarchal” society—including the Black Lives Matter movement, whose Marxist-influenced statement of purpose opposes “the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”—have used Merton’s concept to great effect. …

… On top of all this, we now see America’s enemies, particularly China, using these modern role models to promote racial division and destabilize our country—with those on the political Left as their accomplices. Today, they have coalesced around the Black Lives Matter movement to push America toward a level of racial dysfunction and animus not experienced since the Civil War. …

… American sports have become the Gettysburg of what some have called our “cold civil war.” And if China and the Left complete their radicalization of sports, our nation may never recover.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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