What is Islam’s take on sports and taking athletes as role models and who should young kids be looking up to today as role models?
Last November, a car accident involving Tiger Woods led to a cascade of events that turned the sports world upside down. Many thought of Woods as a first class citizen, and his endorsement deals proved that. Tiger Woods had endorsement deals with Gatorade and Nike to name a few and his own video game that EA Sports released every single year, but the car accident in the middle of the night that Thanksgiving weekend really proved it all wrong. As time went on, Woods’ marital problems were exposed, but that was just the beginning of what was to come. The issue that stunned the sports world was the number of extramarital affairs that a man who was considered the ideal role model for youth and aspiring athletes was having. With Tiger Woods’ return to the Master on April 8, it begs the question what is Islam’s take on sports and taking athletes as role models and who should young kids be looking up to today as role models.
Competitive sport is something that is highly recommended within Islam. Not only does competitive sport bring the best out of people from a work ethic sense, it forces individuals to work together for a common goal. More importantly, competitive sports also promote the well-being of an individual. This is especially pertinent with the rise of obesity and other health problems across Western society. Lastly, obesity is not the only issue that has risen within our communities; whether we acknowledge this or not, there has been a sharp rise in the rate of social issues amongst teenagers taking place in our Muslim communities. Placing our children in after-school sports programs can prevent our children from hanging around the wrong crowd, all while having fun too.
When it comes to selecting role models, one needs to go by the criteria in which the role model selected must make an individual successful not only in this life but also in the next. When one digs deep, (s)he will find that a lot of athletes have personal issues no one would want to deal with in their own lives, so an athlete like Tiger Woods is in no way, shape, or form a role model candidate.
So a question arises: isn’t there anything one can learn from athletes and implement it into our daily lives? Yes, we have examples such as Michael Jordan, who never used failure as an option, and when it was said he couldn’t do something on the court, such as play defense, he used that motivation to prove his cynics wrong by winning Defensive Player of the Year the following year. Another recent example is Green Bay Packers Defensive Back Charles Woodson, who this past Thanksgiving weekend donated two million dollars to the construction of a new hospital focusing on cancer research for young children on the campus of University of Michigan.
Going by the criteria mentioned above in which a role model should guide one in this life and the next, we are left with the point that the only role models that achieve the two points mentioned above are the Holy Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). We all know that the Prophet used his Akhlaq (manners) as his credibility builder. Regardless of how badly the Meccans would treat him by name calling and physically abusing the Prophet, he would never retaliate and always showed patience. Another obvious example is Imam Hussain (peace be upon him), who never backed down to the oppressor even if it meant sacrificing his life. The examples of the Ahlul Bayt are endless, and if any more proof is needed, this hadith explains it all:
The Holy Prophet said: “The likeness of my Ahlul Bayt amongst my followers is similar to Noah’s Ark. Those who embarked on it were rescued, and those who rejected it perished.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
There are many benefits in playing and watching sports. Watching sports usually leads to playing them, which can improve one’s health and help keep Muslim teens out of the wrong crowds. But selecting athletes as role models is another thing. The real role models who will allow an individual to be successful in this life and the next are none other than our beloved Prophet and his Pure Progeny!