While Elijah Dukes has been undergoing counselling to help him deal with the issues that caused him to momentarily lose his cool and leave a message that some might choose to interpret as "threatening" on his estranged wife's voicemail; the revelation that a young woman is carrying his child has again put this contemplative young man at the top of the story line.
Understand that it makes no difference if an athlete wants to be a role model, or not. The fact that they are constantly in the news and that their behavior is so closely reported mandates that they ARE role models. So, when impressionable and maturing young people read about and see the lifestyles of star athletes, often they make the mistake of emulating them.
Particularly if the impressionable minds are the minds of young athletes.
Duke is a young man. An immature man. No one can argue this. Certainly, he bears some of the blame for his misbehavior. But, just as certainly, there is enough blame to go around. We've touched in the past on how the Devil Rays let Elijah down. But, we certainly can't blame the team in this latest incident.
We blame the role models. And the media.
Athletes have a responsibility to provide a worthwhile and solid example for the up and coming young athletes. And the media should be reporting these examples.
Instead, the media harps on the questionable. Extols the negative. Values the borderline moral. And, young Elijah, his values skewered and shaped by the media, walks astray.
For months and months we've seen the sports and entertainment media glorifying the out of wedlock procreation of Tom Brady, Matt Leinhart and even Brian Urlacher. Pasting stories about these men and their womanizing on the web, in print and on the TV screen.
Is it any wonder that young Elijah followed their lead? Is it surprising that Elijah was led to believe that this is how star athletes live their lives?
Unfortunately for Elijah, he is now finding out that only certain athletes get to live life like this. Only certain athletes get the media equivalent of a pat on the back for filling the bellies of single women with babies.
Other athletes, instead of getting the Page 6 treatment and congratulations for the pending nativities, get lines like the following in their stories:
Tampa police said no criminal charges will be filed against Dukes, 22, because state law allows adults between 18 and 23 to have consensual sex with 16- and 17-year-olds.
Yep. While Brady and Leinhart get kudos and hand shakes, Elijah gets a lesson in Florida statutes. Being unbiased, it's hard not to believe that prosecutors weren't just searching for the chance to charge Dukes.
Also, lost in all this: The likes of Brady and Leinhart have NO history as fathers. None. Yet, we assume because of certain criteria, that they will be wonderful fathers. The media doesn't question their qualifications or wonder if they are fit.
Yet, there is a concern that Elijah will be a good father to this child.
Records indicate that Dukes is a fit father. He is credited with having 5 children. With 4 different mothers. Two of those children are even with his current wife. Brady, Leinhart and Urlacher can't even make the claim of having children with a current spouse. Yet, we choose to hold young Dukes under the scope and let these men off the hook.
Dukes doesn't even get credit for his passion about fatherhood.
When she told Dukes in March that she was pregnant, "he got mad and threw a Gatorade at me," the teenager said in the report.
Perhaps, Dukes estranged wife summed it up best:
"You're married and you're having sex with strangers? It's disgusting," Gilbert said. "Do you even know what a condom is?"
We asked a question along the same lines a few months ago.
Until young people are presented with positive role models who understand that children are a responsibility, we are destined to read tales exactly like Elijah Dukes'.
Let's not pretend it's so uncommon. And let's not pretend we don't understand the root cause.