Years ago, the loquacious Charles Barkley famously declared, “I am not a role model.” Last week, ESPN pulled its iconic Monday Night Football theme song, Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends,” from the show permanently after Williams made a reference to Adolf Hitler in comments about Barack Obama in an interview on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.”
ESPN maintains that while Williams was not employed by the network, his song and therefore Williams himself served as a representative for ESPN. Williams believes that ESPN has violated his First Amendment right to free speech. Who’s right?
During a congregational meeting at a previous church, several of the church’s leaders spoke from the floor about a contentious topic, prefacing their remarks with, “I am speaking not as an [elder, staff member], but as a member of the congregation.” But can you really separate those roles?
I don’t think you can. While I do think that those who follow should extend grace to leaders and recognize their humanity, I believe that leaders must recognize that their platform, whether by position or relationships, brings greater opportunity and authority but therefore also greater responsibility.
I was reminded of this in my own life recently when something I wrote while wearing one “hat” as an outside observer was interpreted as a statement by me while wearing another “hat” in a leadership role. In my mind I had taken off one hat and put on another, but those who read my writing did not make that distinction. Charles Barkley, whether he liked it or not, was a role model. His talent on the basketball court earned him a following, and that following did not differentiate between Charles the basketball player and Charles the guy who runs his mouth.
If you are a leader, I believe that you are also a role model. You cannot use authority without also accepting responsibility.
What do you think?