Writing for the USA Swimming website, Mike Gustafson yesterday reflected on all the bad press generated by football players lately, declaring himself “disgusted, tired, and exhausted of what is seemingly the never-ending news cycle of Men Behaving Badly In Sports.” Sports figures are sometimes automatically declared “role models,” but recent reports indicate that shouldn’t be the case.
However, when Gustafson looked to the swimming world that he covers, he found two young women he believes are setting a good example: Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky. Having read several stories about these two young champions, I’m familiar enough with them to know they have three things in common besides swimming: a solid work ethic, a strong family, and Catholic schooling.
Franklin is a graduate of Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colrado, while Ledecky attends Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland. They both seem to have good heads on their shoulders – and Gustafson, who has personally interacted with them, confers the same judgment. Here’s a clip from his great piece:
Sports heroes and role models are usually mutually exclusive ideas that somehow get warped together. Throw a football far, and suddenly, you’re a model of how to live your life. Jump high and dunk, and suddenly, you’re supposed to be a hero. Oftentimes, this is just not the case. Sports are sports. And sports stars have their sets of problems, just like anyone else.But in this age, we do have a few sports stars who are, seemingly, worthy of role model candidacy. We have a few sports stars who stand up straight and answer questions and don’t go and act a different way away from the cameras and microphones. Look no further than Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky.
Take the former: While on deck at Nationals, I was filming videos for AT&T. I wandered on deck with my video camera, kneeling down for the best possible angle, wandering behind the blocks and between coaches and swimmers. Most of the time, other athletes get in my shot. That’s expected and fine. When you film for a few days, hundreds and thousands of people will walk in your shot, stand in front of your angle, or accidentally block your view.
Over those few days, one person stopped to apologize. One person, while accidentally blocking my shot, turned and said, “I’m sorry!”
Katie Ledecky is lesser known on the media circuit. She’ll go through the interview gauntlet this next year in the build-up for 2016. But Ledecky, in most interviews, is poised and controlled. She is, by many accounts, one of the hardest trainers and workers in the pool. She was just awarded the USA Swimming Athlete of the Year, for the second consecutive year.
Neither of these women can be deemed “role models” as they’re both in their teenage years figuring their own personal lives out. But they say the right things in interviews. They act the right way outside the pool. And they are smart, dedicated students. They have learned from some of the best, from other articulate women like [Natalie] Coughlin and [Dara] Torres. And now, it’s almost like there’s a culture within the sport on the female side of how to act, how to present yourself, how to work hard, and how to be.