IT'S BEEN a rough couple of weeks for role models. Tiger Woods has gone from gold standard to radioactive. And Miley Cyrus, clearly in training to wrest the Trainwreck Championship belt from Britney Spears, showed up in photos from Miami Beach with a tattoo under her left breast reading "Just Breathe."
Just breathe is what I think parents would like to do. They'd like some sports heroes or teen idols who offer a safe harbor. They'd like not to have a queasy feeling every time their kid admires a celebrity.
Frankly, the "Q" score of celebrities is not longer relevant - parents would be happy with a "PG" score. We'd gladly take some role models who don't publicly embarrass themselves, or make parents feel embarrassed trying to explain it to their kids.
Kids will always idolize sports heroes and other celebrities. It's normal, but it's just one more issue that's being politicized.
A number of conservative listeners called my show to argue that parents should try to shut out all role models other than the parents. Callers from the left argued that all we should expect from athletes is that they perform at a high level in their sport.
My position is simple. Parents should try to steer their kids toward athletes and celebrities who have a track record of doing the right things. They also should join me and others to push the notion that athletes in particular represent a team or sports organization and should at least refrain from being a public jerk or criminal.
I'd like to help this process by naming some athletes and celebs who flesh out what parents should be looking for. Derek Jeter is a perfect example. I know he plays for the Yankees and dates a lot of women, but he is single, plays the game in an exemplary fashion and hasn't had a whiff of any public scandal.
Donovan McNabb is a local megastar with many of the same qualities that Jeter has. These are guys you can steer your kid toward by commenting on how they play, their admirable charitable work and talking about how they remind you of your childhood heroes.
And don't forget about female athletes like Mia Hamm, Jennie Finch and Venus Williams. Female athletes have been very much scandal-free. Female celebs are sometimes more dangerous than the male celebs, but Miranda Cosgrove of the Disney Channel's "iCarly" and singer Taylor Swift seem to be on the right track.
Like almost everyone, I bought into the carefully constructed image of Woods. Now, his self-destruction is a reminder that parents must be constantly on top of the role models and celebrities their children admire.
There are people and organizations out there trying to help parents as they navigate the minefield of athletes and celebs.
I interviewed Dale Murphy, the ex-Phillie and arguably the best baseball player of the '80s. He said he's working against
the cynicism developing toward athletes because of the transgressions of so many of them.
His contention is that lots of the people he played with, some of whom are still playing, are fine role models. Www.Iwontcheat.com, his Web site and foundation, are a good source of information on character education using sports as the launching point.
On the other side of the coin, it's also time to name the athletes and celebs who belong in the parental Hall of Shame. Here are the first-ballot inductees:
Britney Spears, Allen Iverson, Cyrus, Kanye West, Paris Hilton, Roger Clemens, Michael Vick, Chad Ochocinco, Lindsay Lohan and the entire cast of MTV's "Jersey Shore."
But despite the fact we have a significant number of athletes, like Woods, who fail, there is a silver lining. Due to the rise of the female athlete, we have a bigger pool to look at. And with help from the Internet, parents can easily gain more information in order to gently guide their kids.
We can't isolate and immunize our kids from celebrities, entertainers and sports stars. But if you don't know who your kids watch, listen to and admire, you are dangerously out of touch.
You need to immerse yourself in who the potential role models for your child are - and constantly recalibrate as you get more info. Unfortunately, in this Internet age of tabloid journalism and instant updates, that unnerving evidence is never far away.