This is a question that often comes up in classrooms, but has more recently (and publicly) come up in news services in light of the Tiger Woods accident+affair incident. The questions are whether athletes are acceptable role models and whether it is fair to scrutinize their private failings like we do politicians.
I disagree with both (positive) assertions.
In short, Tiger Woods mysteriously crashed his SUV in the middle of the night and, while explaining this away, admitted to an extramarital affair.
The following is of course biased by who I am, for those of you who know me and have seen me. I won't get into that.
I don't think athletes should be held in the popular media as role models for our children.
Now, some of you are saying, "But who will kids look up to now? Their gonna look up to athletes no matter what."
They don't have to either.
I think half the problem is that we live in a culture that values physical stature, strength, and beauty above all else. Unless the kids have some natural or early acquired physical talent, why should this be imposed on them? In many Asian cultures (even today), the braniacs and top researchers, rather than the top athletes, are revered. Obviously, those countries recognize that sports broadcasts are entertainment for the general public, while the researchers, academics, and other "nerds" are the ones advancing society (except for the few great athletes who do choose to make a highly positive contribution to the community).
For goodness' sake, I look up to Stephen Hawking. Well, maybe that's just me, but I do know of plenty of people who looked up to such academics rather than athletes as role models. It's fine if a kid looks up to an athlete, but why must the media push it on everyone?
I also disagree with the idea that athletes should be scrutinized as closely as Tiger Woods was for his failings.
I'm OK with it happening to politicians. They are public citizens.
Tiger Woods is a private citizen. He is entitled to his privacy, unless things other people he has communicated with (i.e. his lover) leak out at that person's discretion.
That said, the press was really overzealous in getting him to talk. Considering all of the more serious events (bombing in Russia, etc.) that have happened recently, it's safe to say that the media is dysfunctional (that's why I'm here :P (just kidding)).
Folks, it is only in the best interests of the media (to report on personal failings as they come) for people to look up to athletes as role models.