Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Gilbert Arenas: Learning To Be A Better Role Model

The NBA has indefinitely suspended Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards, citing his admission to bringing guns into his team's locker room. (Photo - Reuters/Bret Smith) 

Gilbert Arenas: Learning To Be A Better Role Model

By Gilbert Arenas
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; A17

Washington Post

The Post suggested on Dec. 31 that I send a message to young fans "about guns being neither glamorous nor desirable." I am grateful for the opportunity to do something good in the face of the very bad situation I created.

I have done a number of things wrong recently. I violated D.C. gun laws and the NBA's ban on firearms on league property, and I damaged the image of the NBA and its players. I reacted badly to the aftermath and made fun of inaccurate media reports, which looked as though I was making light of a serious situation. And I gave Commissioner David Stern good reason to suspend me from the game, which put my teammates in a tough position and let down our fans and Mrs. Irene Pollin, the widow of longtime Wizards owner Abe Pollin.

I understand the importance of teaching nonviolence to kids in today's world. Guns and violence are serious problems, not joking matters -- a lesson that's been brought home to me over the past few weeks. I thought about this when I pleaded guilty as charged in court and when I accepted my NBA suspension without challenge.

That message of nonviolence will be front and center as I try to rebuild my relationship with young people in the D.C. area. I know that won't happen overnight, and that it will happen only if I show through my actions that I am truly sorry and have learned from my mistakes. If I do that, then hopefully youngsters will learn from the serious mistakes I made with guns and not make any of their own.

I am trying hard to right my wrongs. The one that will be hardest to make right is the effect my actions have had on kids who see NBA players as role models. Professional athletes have a duty to act responsibly and to understand the influence we have on all those kids who look up to us. I failed to live up to that responsibility when I broke the law and set such a bad example. Washington's children, parents and fans all deserve better from me, especially after all the kindness they've shown me over the years.

While I regret a lot about this incident, letting the kids down is my biggest regret. I love the time I spend with the kids here in the District, and it means a lot to me whenever I can help lift their spirits or inspire them, especially kids who have difficult lives.

Last Tuesday, I wrote a letter to students in D.C. schools that was also about owning up to my mistakes. I said that I lost sight of the lesson I learned from Abe Pollin about how the responsibility to be a good role model comes along with the opportunity he gave me. I reiterate now the pledge I made to those students: that this is a responsibility I am not going to walk away from, that I will choose more wisely in the future and do my best to help guide children into brighter futures.
There have been few bright spots for me these past few weeks. But one came the night I played my last game this season at Verizon Center. I saw young fans were still showing up wearing my jersey. That meant more to me than I can say.

The relationship I have with young fans is very important to me. I realize now how easily I can damage it. I have to earn that respect and work to deserve it each and every day. I plan to do that work by partnering with public officials and community groups to teach kids to avoid trouble and learn from their mistakes, to strive for success by working hard and persevering, and to try to make the right choices.

Some people may not forgive me for what I've done. But if I help steer even just one young person away from violence and trouble, then I'll once again feel that I'm living up to Abe Pollin's legacy and to the responsibility I owe the kids of the District.

The writer, a guard for the Washington Wizards, was suspended last month without pay for the rest of the season.

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