The terms “superstar athlete” and “family man” don’t always overlap particularly naturally. Men who follow sports will know full well that there are often rumors of infidelity, absentee behavior, and generally less-than-stellar family lives that tend to surround professional athletes. Unfortunately, it’s hardly a surprise. Athletes lead glamorous lifestyles and travel constantly. These are not excuses, but they do help to explain the perceived problem.
For this reason, athletes aren’t always the best figures for husbands and fathers to idolize, as tempting as it can be to do so. It’s generally wise for men who watch sports (which seems to be most of us) to keep in mind that admiring an athlete’s actions on the court or field of play doesn’t need to extend to admiring that athlete as a human individual. Many or even most of them may be excellent, honorable, respectable people. But we don’t know them simply because we watch them.
With that said however, there is an almost surprising collection of genuine superstar athletes at the peak of their respective sports who, by all indications, exhibit model behavior as fathers. As just stated, we don’t truly know professional athletes, but we get a better feel for the superstars than most. And it’s become clear over the years that these particular men exhibit model tendencies in fatherhood, and are worth learning a lesson or two from.
LeBron James is one of the most famous athletes on the planet – perhaps second only to a soccer star or two – and has more demands on his time and attention than just about anybody else in the sports world. Yet this summer, as he’s been pondering where to spend the next phase of his career, much of the talk has surrounded his oldest son’s next school. LeBron Jr., or “Bronny,” is a potentially NBA-caliber basketball player himself, and there is a strong belief that the elder James is angling to play one season with his son in the future – which would be a first in the NBA. It’s a cool story, but showing through is the fact that James is making major career decisions as much for the benefit of his children and family as for himself. By all appearances he’s a genuine family-first man.
Roger Federer will turn 37 years old during this year’s U.S. Open, yet he was just tabbed as a worthy favorite for Wimbledon (which is ongoing as of this writing). He also just signed a $300 million endorsement deal with Uniqlo following the expiration of his Nike relationship. He’s doing sensational things for an athlete at his age. Despite all of this however, he’s made a clear point of involving his family every step of the way. Federer’s wife and twin daughters are regulars at his matches all over the world, and though we don’t see as much of his younger twin sons, it stands to reason they’ll be getting the same treatment. Perhaps other families just aren’t as visible as the Federers, but it’s not often we see young children along for the ride like this.
Stephen Curry may not have to travel the world the way Federer does, but speaking of kids being along for the ride, his have been adorably present during his NBA career. In particular, his daughter Riley has been part of his career in a way that’s been truly endearing to watch. It’s actually not uncommon for NBA athletes to have young children with them at postgame press conferences, but Riley became a celebrity unto herself when she was just a few years old. This, combined with the fact that Curry’s wife and parents seem to attend many of his home and playoff games, just makes it look like he’s managed to establish a strong family dynamic.
We actually don’t know much at all about Derek Jeter the father. His daughter Bella, whom he had with wife Hannah Jeter, is not yet a year old, and has hardly (if ever) been seen in public. However, there’s a different reason for respecting Jeter’s life as a father, and that’s that he waited so long to become one. Something of a famous ladies’ man in his lengthy career with the New York Yankees, Jeter settled down, got married, and had his daughter very soon after retiring – strongly implying that he simply knew his professional lifestyle wasn’t suitable to fatherhood. That’s not to say no athletes could handle it, but in a way his timing is commendable. Waiting to become a father at the proper time is absolutely part of fatherhood.
Ernie Els, the 48-year-old professional golfer who was once ranked number one in the world, has long exhibited a moving commitment to fatherhood. This is because he’s the father to a son with autism. While that’s undoubtedly been a major challenge for the Els family, however, the golfer himself has turned it into what appears to be one of the main missions of his life. Through a foundation he started, as well as his own openness about his son, Els has made a difference in the world of autism. His foundation has influence all over the world, assisting with everything from understanding to employment opportunities. A dad can’t do much better than that.
*This post was written in collaboration with William Ray.*