Society’s youth continues to struggle as positive role models face extinction

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Smajda encourages men to find role models, like LeBron James.


Troy Smajda | Staff Columnist

Who are some men you look to as role models? Since I’m limited to my immediate family due to the pandemic, I couldn’t go out and ask some of the young men and women around campus this question, so instead I asked my immediate family.

I asked my little brother what men he looks up to and I was flattered when he answered that my dad and myself were two. I asked my dad, and he answered his father and his best friend (oddly he didn’t mention me). I asked my mother, and she also mentioned her father.

So the answer I kept getting to my question was either fathers or immediate family or friends. But then I followed up my initial question with this one: What about out in the world? Are there any men in society you look up to?

And the answer I got from everyone in my family was no. There aren’t.

The reason for this could be that everyone in my family is a misanthropic weirdo (hopefully that’s the case and you don’t have to read any further), but I suggest you ponder my second question and try to come up with a man that’s not close family or friends that you truly look up to as a role model. If you have more success than me and my family … great, but I’ll assume for argument’s sake you might’ve struggled with the question.

And I believe that’s because there simply aren’t many positive male role models in today’s society, and the ones that exist aren’t highlighted enough. In the past they seemed to be more obvious: Presidents like JFK or FDR or Lincoln come to mind, Dr. King is one I personally hold in highest esteem and Barack Obama was one that influenced much of my young life. But lately I’ve been trying to look for some in today’s society, and honestly I’m not finding much.

Obviously, I’m being histrionic and there are plenty of amazing men doing meaningful things: Terry Crews, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Harry Styles, Stephen King, Bill Gates, Neil Patrick Harris, Elton John, George Takei, Kevin Love, LeBron James, every athlete that is fighting for social justice, Drake, Bo Burnham — you get the point (and that list is not at all exhaustive). And hopefully you thought of some of those men when I originally asked the question and think maybe I’m being redundant now.

But let me then ask this: When’s the last time you absorbed something from these men that wasn’t simply for entertainment or pleasure? Exactly. These powerful role models are subjugated to entertainment while trivial role models like Joe Rogan, or Barstool, or sports (or sports betting), or video games, or social media, or far-too-often pornography are where most men receive their real influences. And sure, that’s a generalization, and those things I guess are acceptable nowadays, but I would argue that ultimately they are moral dead ends.

Maybe I sound like some weird, contrarian hippie dude, but all I’m really trying to say is that we could all benefit from a serious realignment of what men are continually viewing/absorbing/focusing on. And again, hopefully you do read, listen, and watch actually important content featuring men doing impactful and meaningful things, but I’m going to assume again that is not always the case.

I will close this lengthy, testosteroney diatribe with a personal anecdote.

I love playing basketball. Months before the pandemic I was playing with my best friends, and we got into the perennial Michael Jordan/LeBron debate (as most overly competitive men do). And I made the point that as a basketball player, I’d much rather have LeBron on my team simply because he seems like a good teammate, and after watching The Last Dance Michael Jordan seemed the opposite. This point was met with vitriol, and they all asked, “Who cares? MJ won six rings.”

And for a second I could tell that they thought the point I was making was completely stupid and nonsensical (much like you might be reading this article) and of course they’re my friends so I knew it wasn’t personal, but their reaction was disheartening to me. I realized then that men have a slightly flawed version of what it means to be the “best.” Sure MJ has six rings, but LeBron is an amazing person, teammate, activist, philanthropist and leader, and is probably one of the most important men of the last 20 years.

My point is this: Men should focus more on positive role models like LeBron and all those other great men I listed above. Their focus should not be on other men’s achievements, but on the content of their character. That way, instead of constantly being focused on winning and “being a man,” me and all other men can focus more on being good teammates to everyone around us.