Are Disgraced Sports Heroes Turning America’s Youth Away From Drugs?

Many of us look to sports heroes for inspiration in our lives. We look to individuals with the talent and dedication to attain the highest peaks of physical fitness and achieve excellence in sports of all kinds as role models who inspire us to set high standards in our own lives and work hard to achieve our goals. While parents may encourage their children to look to sporting heroes as examples of humans who set themselves high standards and reach their goals, they may be concerned about the influence of many recent news stories which chart the disgrace of one sports hero or another when his or her involvement with drugs or alcohol is revealed to the public. Parents may wonder whether their children will feel that sports stars should also be seen as role models in this aspect of their lives. Are stories about drug use within the sports world likely to encourage young people in America to experiment with drugs themselves?

However, interestingly—and, especially for parents, reassuringly—it may be that stories of drug abuse in the world of sports have the opposite effect on the young people of today. Is it possible that sports people who bring their sport into discredit or players who let down their team because of arrests for drug use may even, in part, have played a part in a decline in drug use among today’s American adolescents?

Negative Role Models: Positive Impacts?

In some recent drug scandals, public reaction has been colored by a disappointment with the sports hero in the light of his or her earlier attempts to deny drug use in order to protect an image. When seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong revealed in his interview with Oprah Winfrey that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, many people were more deeply disappointed as he had spoken out against drugs in the past. While the idea of drugs which enhance physique and performance are understandably intriguing to teens, there is nothing rebellious or appealing about hypocrisy to encourage them to follow in the footsteps of a former hero.

Few young people today look to contemporary political figures as their heroes and Toronto mayor Rob Ford seems to be an example of a political figure that is particularly unlikely to capture the imagination of American teens. His recent denials of drug use and later admissions of alcohol abuse and use of the street drug, crack, seem, however, more likely to turn the youth of America away from both drugs and alcohol than to imbue them with an aura of romance and glamour and make young people curious to emulate his activities.

The Courage to Face Up to Drug Problems

While, teens may feel disappointment with public figures who attempt to cover up their use of drugs in an attempt to protect their images and careers, they may feel more positively about those who admit to drug use and tackle their problems head on. Those who admit their fault and take steps to change by turning away from drugs by contacting a helpline and checking into rehab in order to deal with addictions now, ironically, seem more likely to appeal to teen imaginations as romantic figures. The sports world and sports promoters, as well as individual athletes, appear to be increasingly aware that any association with the use of illegal drugs is liable to have a negative impact on their image in the eyes of today’s young people, even while they recognize the difficulty of eradicating drug abuse from sport. While alcohol abuse and experimentation with street drugs may have captured the romantic imagination of earlier generations of young people in America, it appears that the current generation is less easily impressed by such behavior and that it may even be inclined to regard drug use as a sign of weakness.

A sense of disenchantment with public figures who abuse drugs may even have contributed to the results of the 2013 National Institute on Drug Abuse survey, Monitoring the Future, which indicated that the use of alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs was on the decline among young people in America and is currently at its lowest point since 1975, when the survey its investigations into drug and alcohol use among the teenage population. This finding is certainly a welcome one, although, more troublingly, perhaps, the survey also revealed that the daily use of marijuana was on the rise among adolescents in America. While parents cannot afford to be complacent about the risks that drugs pose to their children, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance pointed out that “It’s important to keep in mind that marijuana pales in comparison to alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants and pharmaceutical drugs in terms of dangers to young people.” He added: “The findings from the latest Monitoring the Future survey suggest that young people are avoiding problematic drug use more than ever before.”

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