20120902jonclute-ar01“I’m not a role model,” former NBA star, Charles Barkley, famously said in the ’90s.

Professional athletes for years have been expressing the same sentiment. Money, fame and cult followings don’t make a role model.

Despite many athletes’ backing away from the role model label, American society as a whole continues to embrace athletes as role models.

I grew up near Atlanta, so it was second nature for me to support the Atlanta Falcons. Michael Vick was one of the most exciting players on the Falcons team as well as in the whole NFL. He was described as a role model and an inspiration to aspiring football players everywhere.

But once the details of his now highly publicized dog-fighting scandal broke, the city of Atlanta was thrown into turmoil. He was a hero to many people in Atlanta; the news was hard to believe.

As Christians, we can see the danger of putting athletes on pedestals because we understand man’s sinful condition. Instead of making athletes into role models based on the success of their careers or their popularity, we should appreciate athletes who lead upstanding lives — especially Christian athletes with an unashamed testimony for Christ.

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to Christ in the face of outright hatred and persecution, perhaps more than any Christian athlete before him.

A lesser known athlete, NBA guard Jeremy Lin, professes to be a Christian as well, and he boldly told a room full of New York reporters that God was the only reason he made it to the NBA.

Not every athlete who claims Christianity will live like a true believer, nor will every strong Christian athlete get it right every time, like when Tebow backed out of a speaking engagement at a church in Dallas after some media pressure.

Instead of straining to make every athlete who mentions his faith into a role model, we can see those true Christian athletes for what they are — fellow runners in this race, beset by sin and temptation, just like us.

Ultimately, any Christian athlete will be known by his fruits, so with patience and discernment, we can appreciate and respect those Christian athletes without forcing them to be role models.