By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
At first, it was just another basket
ball shoe commercial: An anony
mous player, shooting in an anonymous gym, in an anonymous city Ä it was even shot in black and white.
Upon closer inspection, however, the viewer sees it isn't some anonymous player Ä it's the Phoenix Suns' Charles Barkley, about as far from anonymous as you can get.
And it's not just another basketball shoe commercial, either. This is, after all, Charles Barkley. So when his bald head fills the screen, the viewer isn't surprised by Charles opening his mouth. Until he speaks.
"I am not a role model," Barkley says, eyes staring straight into the camera.
Opponents said it was a cop-out, an excuse to justify any moral wrongdoings or social improprieties on his part. Barkley said it simply wasn't his job. He plays basketball Ä that's it.
While most student athletes are anonymous, a national ranking can instantly make them a household name.
That's what happened in 1988, when Sean Elliot and Steve Kerr led the UA men's basketball team to the Final Four for the first time in history. Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire repeated the feat last season, the same year the football team shut out the University of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
As a result of the national media attention, Stoudamire Ä as well as the football team's Tedy Bruschi Ä became nationally recognized names and local heroes. And at the same time the nation is watching to see how they will perform on the court and on the field, their coaches, teachers and parents are monitoring how they perform in the classroom and in the community.
Despite his 5-foot-10-inch frame, Stoudamire, a senior point guard, has been spotted and hounded from California to New York. But because of his height, he is sometimes able to escape the throes of potential autograph seekers.
"I can blend in," Stoudamire says. "I guess you just have to take the good with the bad, but to me it's kind of embarrassing sometimes when people call you out or when you're out in public and people are like, 'Good game' and all that. It's kind of embarrassing."
Unlike Stoudamire, 6-foot-9-inch Ray Owes can't blend so easily. But he recognizes the obligations which come with being a public figure.
"There's a lot of impressionable young kids that look up to us, so in a sense it's our responsibility not to set any bad examples," says Owes, a forward on the basketball team. "You don't necessarily have to be a good example, but you don't have to be a bad example either."
Owes, a senior, says although he is recognized almost everywhere he goes, he doesn't consider himself a celebrity.
Corey Williams, a forward, says every member of the team can tell "one hundred and one stories" of people they don't know coming up to them, just because they're a recognizable athlete.
"I go to the store to shop, and I end up signing autographs, and I'm one of the less popular players on the team," Williams says. "So I know what it must be like for Joseph Blair, Ray and Damon and those guys, but you can't go much anywhere in Tucson without people recognizing you. If you're a player like Damon and JB and Ray, they get recognized all over."
For Bruschi, who, along with four of
his teammates, appeared on the
cover of last year's Sports Illustrated college football preview issue, the expectations of being a role model are a burden which comes with playing for a nationally recognized program.
"I'm not half as big as Michael Jordan or Sean Elliott or anything like that, but as (far as) Tucson goes, if kids can look up to me, see the things I've done, model themselves after myself, then I'm proud to be a role model," Bruschi says. "I'll accept the responsibility and try to do the best I can. But they have to understand that I'm human and I make mistakes."
Bruschi says the public eye is something players of his stature have to deal with, because for the most part, it can't be avoided.
"I believe that the public will be the first to know when we mess up," Bruschi says. "The eye in the sky is always watching over us. It's something that you have to deal with. The university pays for your education, you've got to pay them back on the field, and you've also got to be a good person."
Coaches also recognize this, and as a result, instill a sense in players that they are accountable not only for their actions on the court, but off the court too.
Both Jim Rosborough, assistant coach of the men's basketball team, and Mike Candrea, head coach of the softball team, say establishing this responsibility is as important a goal as winning games.
"We discuss (the importance of being role models) with them a great deal," Rosborough says. "We stress it with them in the fall, we stress it with them in the recruiting process, it goes into the home on our first visit as recruiters. I'm not by any stretch saying they're perfect, but I do think that's one of the real points of emphasis with our program, that they do have a responsibility to the young people in the community. So we start with that right away."
"In a town like Tucson, people need to realize Ä especially athletes Ä that along with the notoriety comes some responsibility and accountability that you have when you're out in the community," Candrea says. "You never know who is around you, so I always tell our kids to make sure they act appropriately and that they represent themselves and the U of A in the proper manner."
"There was a kid about three or four weeks ago that was dying of cancer, and they called and the only thing the kid wanted was for Damon to come by," Rosborough says. "On a Sunday afternoon Damon went by and met the kid and two weeks later he passed away. That's not necessarily role modeling, but that's the kind of stuff we expect our guys to do."
I am not a role model," Barkley says,
eyes staring straight into the cam-
Some argue that student-athletes aren't role models either. While the athletes are often last to complain, being a role model is usually the furthest thing from their minds, as schoolwork and practice always take precedence. The order of importance, however, is a point argued between coach and player.
Rosborough, Candrea and head football coach Dick Tomey all say education comes first and foremost. They say coaches both promise and owe it to the student to make sure that the athlete attends classes.
"We try very hard to work with our guys Ä the coaches check classes, I check classes, we try to be visible on campus in terms of doing things to try to encourage guys to get to class," Tomey says. "But at the same time we can't check every class and we understand that most of that responsibility is up to the individual. I think you just have to create an awareness of how important it is to be there every day."
Candrea says he does "sporadic grade mid
checks" on his players to keep tabs on them, but the final responsibility falls on the student.
"A lot of the teachers here don't take attendance, so you've got to again put the responsibility on the student athlete," Candrea says. "In our sport, they're here, number one, to get an education, and number two, to play softball."
Athletes argue that between road trips, practice and games, it's a wonder classwork even gets done.
But with the amount of tutoring available to athletes, Rosborough says he can't see how a student could fail to get a degree.
"But in terms of our checking classes, our staying up to date on this, that and the other thing, (making sure players go to class) is far and away the biggest headache. It's a bigger headache than recruiting, it's a bigger headache than winning games, it's a bigger headache than losing to Miami (Ohio)."
"We look at regular students and think they're stupid," says Warner Smith, a senior offensive lineman last season on the football team. "We say, 'If you guys can't all get a 4.0 when you guys don't have the same time constraints I do, then something is ridiculous with you.' People call us meatheads."
While athletes are afforded the luxuries of tutors, there is also the belief that they get help of a different nature Ä namely, as a result of the status of being on a well-known team. But, as Rosborough pointed out, it works the other way as well.
"I've been at it a long time and I'm not here to slam anybody, but I think there's probably situations where athletes may get some mildly favorable treatment Ä but I think there's also what you never hear about, the examples where they are held to a higher standard," Rosborough says. "Attendance is one, professors not liking athletics at all (is) two, so I think it can go both ways.
"Recognizable athletes may get the benefit of the doubt, but I think there are just as many or more examples where they're maybe held to a higher degree of accountability just because of who they are."
Beverly Seckinger, assistant professor of media arts, taught a class this semester that was attended by Stoudamire.
While Seckinger says she hasn't experienced any problems with having Stoudamire in class, she says in some cases, athletes are treated differently.
"I think there's pressure in some cases to pass people that you might not normally pass," Seckinger says. "I have not experienced it, but I've heard of it."
"I am not a role model," Barkley says, eyes staring straight into the camera.
If Rosborough coached Barkley, however, he would tell the Suns' star that he is. That's what Rosborough and freshman guard Miles Simon discussed Wednesday, after the two played tennis. He said Simon told him dealing with the recognition of the basketball program, combined with staying on top of school, is one of the toughest things he's ever gone through.
"I talked to Miles, he comes out of one of the best high school programs in the country (Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif.), and I told him, 'For better or worse, you're a recognizable figure. Almost every move is scrutinized. You really can't imagine how it's going to be until you go through it, can you Miles?'"
"And Miles said, 'That's exactly right, you can't. It's unbelievable.'"
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