BOSTON (CBS) – We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and up to a point, there’s nothing wrong with that. I get a kick out of it when I bump into a famous person, and leafing through People magazine is a great way to put your brain on hold while waiting for an appointment.
But the pathetic sight of 81-year-old Bill Cosby being led away in handcuffs – after being sentenced to a long prison term for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman more than a decade ago – is a gruesome reminder of how dangerous it can be to pretend that celebrities can be role models, for kids or anyone else.
Bill Cosby was a show business icon who broke through racial barriers, redefined the way TV portrayed the black family, and won a Presidential Medal of Freedom in part for his willingness to speak out about moral issues. But the public moralist was cover for an evil private life of exploitation and violation. Some role model.
How many times have we been down this road? You let your kids idolize a pro athlete, a musician or a movie star, and too often, they turn out to be cheaters or abusers.
“I’m not paid to be a role model, I’m paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court. Parents should be role models,” NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley once said in a TV commercial.
Put me down with him on this one.
Not every parent is a good role model, of course, nor is every teacher, priest, or police officer. But you’ve got much better odds of raising your kid right if you steer their faith towards people who you actually know instead of letting them idolize potentially duplicitous strangers.