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Should we expect footballers to be role models?

This week AFL superstar Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin became the latest in a long list of athletes to come under fire for their behaviour or associations. Collective Shout, an organisation which campaigns against the objectification of women and girls in popular culture, called Franklin to account for his clothing line Nena & Pasadena and its use of derogatory images in both its clothing designs and advertising.

With the recent launch of his own brand of football, Buddy Ball, Franklin is now selling not only clothing range rife with provocative imagery, but a product targeted specifically at young children.

According to an April 30 post on the Collective Shout website:

“Buddy is marketing his brand to children, milking his role model status to sell footballs. This is the man who designs porn themed t-shirts, produces pornographic campaign videos and provides a social forum on Facebook for men to joke about drugging and raping women.”

As parents, how do we reconcile the positive influence sport stars like Buddy have on our children as healthy, hard working, successful athletes, with the less than perfect example they set in other aspects of their lives? Is it reasonable for us to expect our children’s heroes to behave the way we’d like when they’re off the field, or is it our job to steer our kids in the right direction?

Athletes are fallible people like the rest of us. Many of them are thrust into the limelight and showered with cash and adulation at an age when their contemporaries are living at home with Mum and Dad, struggling to drag themselves out of bed for a 9am uni lecture or an entry level job. Maybe it’s not fair to judge these young men not only their performance on the football field, but what they decide to do with their finances and personal lives too. Carlton’s Chris Judd, one of the biggest names in AFL, has said in the past he only wants to be remembered as a sportsperson, and that children should look up to people who they know, not celebrities.

But to quote Voltaire (and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben), with great power comes great responsibility. There’s no doubt professional athletes work very hard for their success, but as a reward they get to do what they love and get paid very well to do it. If they want to continue making big money, the image they present to the public is important for themselves, their club (in the case of footballers) and their sport. Children will look up to and aspire to be like famous athletes, whether the athletes are comfortable with it or not.

The AFL has a Respect and Responsibility policy which is supposed to create “safe, supportive and inclusive environments for women and girls across the football industry as well as the broader community”. The image Lance Franklin portrays with his Nena & Pasadena brand is not supportive of women, and by endorsing the messages it sends he is doing himself a disservice. Perhaps he could take a cue from someone like Essendon footballer Nathan Lovett-Murray, who has used his profile to launch a music label for Indigenous hip hop artists.

I know in the end it’s up to me, my husband, our friends and family members to model good behaviour for our children and teach them how to treat other people. I don’t expect our sporting heroes to be perfect, but I can choose not to support players whose business ventures I don’t approve of. I won’t be buying a Buddy Ball for my kids, how about you?

Check out Collective Shout’s article here: http://collectiveshout.org/2012/04/buddys-no-role-model/

The AFL’s Respect and Responsibility Police is here: http://www.afl.com.au/development/womengirls/respectandresponsibility/tabid/10321/default.aspx

 

 

Georgina Scambler is a journalism student and mother of two who has spent the last four years juggling off campus study with full time parenting. You can follow her on Twitter here

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