Athletes and the Media: Role Models Or not

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Table of Contents

  • Background Information on Case Study
  • History and Stakeholders
  • Values and Ethics
  • Values
  • Risk of Harm
    Fairness and Justice.
    Education and Athlete engagement
    The Role of Media in Athlete
    Promotion of the Right Code of Conduct Among Athletes
    Conflict on Values
  • Alternatives, Consequences and Intention
  • The Role of Player Welfare Managers on Media Information
    Benchmarking of Athletes
  • Evaluation of Theory
  • Theory of Utilitarianism
  • Conclusion

High profile athletes are always considered public figures as it is with other celebrities in other professions. Their role has often come with additional responsibilities of being portrayed as role models who inspire young people, especially off the field. (Reid, 2017). Being a role model in sports has also been amplified by the media. It is easy for young children to want to grow up to be like USAin Bolt or Michael Jordan, but more times than not an athlete has no desire to be a role model. Athletes are merely employees who are employed to represent their clubs and not act as role models, a role which may not suit most of them as the media wants them to be.

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This paper discusses the role played by the media on athletes using a case study. The article will also delve into answering the question of whether the media should promote athletes or not based on the case studies discussed. In the same line, the paper will draw attention to whether media promotion of athletes helps portray role model qualities in such athletes. Additionally, the paper will analyze the ethics provided concerning the significant issues of concern and discuss solutions further or alternatives.

Background Information on Case Study

The ethical dilemma arising in this case study is whether the media should or not should promote athletes as role models. Some athletes have prospered professionally while others have lost fame because the media brought into light their private activities off the field. It is thus an ethical dilemma because most people have questioned the media’s role in promoting role model skills. There are accusations on the other hand painting the media as a cynical tool designed to alter some athlete’s professional life.

History and Stakeholders

Athletes have majorly been a spotlight for media that their private lives seem not to be hidden from the public which makes most people idolize them even more. This does not mean that athletes are righteous or are strangers to scandals, but instead, the media continually places athletes public and private lives on the spotlight. In 2009, when Caster Semenya, a female athlete who won gold in the World Championships in Berlin, the media highlighted that she had masculine features which prompted further verification and especially gender verification by the Association of Athletic Federations (Viljoen, 2013). According to Kirby Dick in 2016, an understanding of Jameis Winston’s accusation on sexual assault came into the limelight because of media scrutiny. As an undergraduate at Florida State University, Winston’s publicity was drawn from his athletic role which deemed him as a celebrity because of his high school accolades. Through all of the sexual assault allegation, Winston still went on to win the Heisman Trophy and was the number one overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Michael Phelps had a similar run in with the media casting him in a negative light. A picture surfaced of him having a glass bong was taken without him knowing and the media was quick to debate about the issue. The picture cost him a few endorsement deals, most notably his sponsorship with Kellogg (Howard, 2014)

Howard (2014) criticizes the treatment of Michael Phelps by the media that damaged his professional life and caused him to lose millions of dollars in endorsements. In his criticism, Howard does not deny the role of the media in taking coverage of an athlete or any other sports activity to reach the viewers all over the world. However, his concern is the limit that the media has in its coverage. If Michael Phelps was seen with a glass bong, was this an issue that needed media coverage? How important was this to viewers? Audience perception is different in defining a scandal and most especially scandals that athletes are involved (Epstein, 2017). Although representing a few whose cases have been found on almost similar circumstances, Michael Phelps needs to consider the most in this case. As much as athletes are publicly monitored, their private life should at least have limits for media access since they choose to have an individual experience.

In solving this problem, media coverage should have limits on what is to be covered on an athletes private life. If the media’s primary objective is in celebrating the athlete’s role or victory in the field, then it means that the aim should only cover that which is related to success or celebration of the athlete. Being spotted with a glass bong may be interpreted otherwise by the media, hence in such an event if the media needs to have such show, then an individual must be consulted first to determine whether the individual is okay with that or not. The primary goal of highlighting this problem is in sensitizing the athletes about what is deemed private and public and that their public life is mostly centered on their professional role which need not their consent for coverage. Besides, the media ought to be controlled on the type of information given on an athletes life especially in safeguarding image and image restoration

Values and Ethics


Based on the dilemma arising from this case, some values are derived.

Risk of Harm

Although most athletes are unbeaten in their careers, they are not limited to seeking alternative activities that may or may not be sport related to earning extra money. Some may be ambassadors of specific products or are merely promoting a brand owing to their fame. Media ought to consider such factors to avoid causing harm to the athlete.

Fairness and Justice.

Individuals are different and are not equal: this also explains how athletes are also different in their engagements. When involved in scandals, efforts should be made to ensure justice and fairness to them. Moreover, when found to have abused law, athletes should be treated the same way like other criminals.

Education and Athlete engagement

Most athletes may not be informed on their media relationship with the media. It goes beyond reasonable doubt that the media and the athletes should educate themselves adequately on the border or limits that the media should go on the athletes and on seeking the consent of athletes.


The Role of Media in Athlete

The press is involved in athletes’ life especially in covering or giving information on the athlete when in competitions, training or anything related to an athlete’s professional life. Hence the role of media should be well defined.

Promotion of the Right Code of Conduct Among Athletes

Athletes cannot be assumed as saints who in one or two instances may be found on the wrong side of the law; it is only prudent that athletes maintain the right code of conduct even outside cameras.

Conflict on Values

There are conflicting values in this context. The value of fairness and justice conflicts with that of causing harm. Even though justice may be served to an athlete based on accusations fronted by the media, it can take ages to recover an image which already had been painted differently. Indeed, as Epstein points out that image recovery may take some time as an audience already have a divergent view of an individual. Michael Phelps sought a public apology, and so did the media, but it not help him get back the endorsements he had lost.

The values are arranged in the order given based on who it affects first. The media coverage of an athlete affects the athlete first. It could be harmful or not. If harmful, the athlete as an aggrieved party will seek justice and later on based on experience educate and enlighten other on future episodes.

Alternatives, Consequences and Intention

The Role of Player Welfare Managers on Media Information

Player welfare managers need to be highly involved in what the media gives out to the public on their welfare. The press should at least concentrate on deeds on the field and not put the focus on off the field misdemeanors (Pedersen, 2013). The ethical issue involved in this alternative would be whether the player’s character on track is also on record as given by the welfare managers.

Benchmarking of Athletes

The first step of benchmarking the athletes to gauge the suitability is in the anti-doping test. The role played by the anti-doping agency covers education and the monitoring of athletes, especially on drugs and research. Benchmarking can be finalized by ranking with the required skills and requirements to help in scrutinizing the athletes for media and other brand interest. The primary ethical issue here is that the media houses may overlook some essential deeds of athletes ranked average or below average. The reason behind the decision of benchmarking is to promote the role of the anti-doping agency.


By allowing player welfare managers to take part in consultation of the athlete’s role, the value of justice and fairness is highly maximized. The welfare manager comes into play, not in defense of an athletes wrongdoing, but by putting the right facts that are relevant to the media. Additionally, the athlete is also treated fairly. This position is justified based on Winston’s allegation which the court dismissed and could be used in his defense in the future.

Evaluation of Theory

Theory of Utilitarianism

The theory of utilitarianism is applicable in this case study and the general decision making. More focus is put on the consequence on an individual athlete when media is involved in promoting the athlete to include activities outside their career (Shepherd, 2014). In applying the utilitarian theory in decision making, moral judgment of action should be considered based on the consequences that action poses and not on the moral disposition of the mind and or social motives of an individual. Thus, the media should analyze and apply the theory of utilitarianism before promoting an athlete. In evaluating this decision, media personnel have to seek the consent of the athlete first after the occurrence or action involving the athlete and discuss it with them and finally arrive at a concrete solution

A viable strategy that would prevent the dilemma from occurring would be education and engagement. Education applies to the media, athletes, and the public. They need information on what their limits are on matters of promotion and role models. Similarly, the engagement of both parties will help draw lines and consent of what should be given.


Overall, there is a general notion that everyone is responsible for both ethical and unethical conduct in athletes. It is only worth mentioning that ethics is not optional and that good deeds cannot go uncelebrated in the athletic world. It is up to everyone to understand that ethics have placed responsibility on the athlete, media, and even the spectator as they both contribute differently. A primary lesson, in this case, is that when morals that guide behavior are set and in action the expectation will equally align with the set morals. When athletes, media, and the public align to a particular code of behavior that associates with the dilemma drawn above, then their expectation will also be close to the conduct which brings any forms of doubt and criticism. It thus means that information shared will according to set behavior and that which does not go well with the set conduct is withheld.

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