“I am not a role model.” ~Charles Barkley
So, I’m driving home Friday afternoon from our monthly Four Horsemen lunch in Dallas. I had intended to spend the time listening to a couple of lectureship sermons on CD. But the CDs were blank; probably a glitch in the reproduction process. So I was stuck listening to Michael Irvin’s daily show on ESPN Radio.
Dallas Mavericks forward Josh Howard was a guest on the show, there to talk about his team’s 0-2 deficit to New Orleans and to promote his summer kids basketball camp. And to their credit Irvin and his co-host, Kevin Kiley, went straight to a Dallas Morning News article by Brad Townsend that reported Howard’s admission of recreational use of marijuana. In that article, Howard is quoted as saying, “What can I say? If you can do it and it’s not affecting your everyday life, why stop?”
And I’m stunned as I listen to Howard talk about his marijuana use. You can read a transcript of the radio interview here. About his regular off-season marijuana use, Howard says, “That’s my personal choice, that’s my personal opinion.” He calls himself a mature adult and claims that Mavs owner Mark Cuban and coach Avery Johnson haven’t talked to him about it because they recognize him as an adult and able to handle his own business without hurting the team. “That’s me,” he says. “That’s what I’m going to do when I’m by myself and my personal time.”
According to Josh, the only thing he needs to worry about is getting suspended by the NBA for failing a drug test. So as long as he only smokes during the offseason, when the league doesn’t test its players, it’s OK. He repeatedly answers Irvin’s and Kiley’s questions with variations on this theme of “I’m not going to put myself in no kind of position to fail.”
The real question though, the one that matters, isn’t about how it affects his basketball skills or whether or not he’ll be caught by an NBA drug test. The real question centers on Josh Howard’s willfully and unashamedly breaking state and federal laws. That’s the one I kept waiting to be asked.
And they finally did.
Kiley finally asked Howard toward the end of the interview, “Does it not bother you that this is against the law?”
And Howard didn’t understand the question. His “What???” response revealed that he was unclear of the concept of law outside his NBA world and professional athlete and superstar entertainer environment. Kiley explained the illegalities of “the purchase and use of marijuana in the United States of America.” And Howard responded, again, with, “I’m not going to put myself in the kind of position to fail.”
He has no idea he’s held to any kind of standards or laws outside his own realm of basketball and the Mavericks. And if he is, he doesn’t care.
One more thing from the interview: Howard’s comments regarding his summer camp. Irvin asked him about the parents of these 7-18-year-old boys and girls who are being asked to send their children to Howard’s camp. Isn’t he concerned about what they think about his open use of marijuana?
“You know, if parents trust me enough to know that I’m out here telling the truth and not sitting up here lying, like everybody else is, I think they’ll give me the opportunity to help their kids out, you know what I mean?…I want these kids to see there’s an athlete out there that really cares about them, no matter what his situation is. He really cares about the community and the kids.”
And then Irvin asks the natural follow-up, “What do you tell a kid when he comes up to you and asks you is it OK to smoke marijuana?”
“I’m going to let him know, you know, personally it’s not for you to do it. But I can’t hold your hand, all I can do is tell you right and wrong. At the end of the day, the kid’s going to make a decision off what he wants to do. That’s what I had to do. That’s what my brother had to do and all my friends had to do. Like they say, you can lead the horse to the lake, but you’re not going to make them drink. I can tell them everything they need to know.”
Now, I’ve written all that to say this: we got Whitney a Josh Howard jersey for Christmas. She loves it and she wears it all the time.
What am I supposed to do?
If you’re angry at Josh Howard’s comments or you’re upset or disappointed or if you think it would be crazy for any parent in his right mind to allow his own child to attend this summer camp so Howard could “tell you right and wrong,” be careful. If you drive faster than the posted speed limits, as Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man.” If you fudge a tad on your tax return or if you lie about your child’s age to circumvent the MySpace rules to set up your kid’s account, “Thou art the man.” You are Josh Howard. But I’d rather talk about that tomorrow.
Today, I need to know what to do about Whitney’s jersey.
My inclination is to buy her a Dirk jersey and make the trade with her, telling her that Josh is breaking the law and he thinks it’s OK to break the law and he thinks he doesn’t need to obey the law and so it’s not a good idea to wear his jersey as a symbol of your respect for him. Of course, some will say that Dirk’s no role-model either with his drunken off-season escapades in Europe and Greenville Avenue. But, while what Dirk does is wrong and not what I want Whitney to admire or emulate, he’s not breaking the law. And if he is, he’s not flaunting it or openly saying that he’s above it.
I’ve tried to be careful about the jerseys and posters Whitney hangs up and wears. I’ve tried to steer her toward the “good guys” in sports. I thought Josh Howard was safe. Maybe 90% of the professional athletes out there do think they’re above the law. Maybe 90% of them live their lives that way. Maybe we should burn Whitney’s Tony Romo jersey and tear down her Mike Modano poster and trash her Michael Young bobblehead. I don’t think so. Her role models are her mom and me and her grandparents and her church family and her teachers at school. We tell her all the time that we enjoy watching sports for the skills of the athletes and the drama of the games and nothing more. She knows that most of them are not worth imitating.
But I can’t let her wear the Howard jersey anymore, can I?
What would you do? How are you handling this story and this situation with your own kids who are Mavs fans?
Unless somebody can come up with a better plan, I’m trading jerseys with her. But I don’t think I’ll have time to do it before the Mavs are eliminated and she turns her full attention to the Stars. And that gives me a little bit of a cushion.