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Basketball’s Charles Barkley reiterated last week on “Larry King Live” that he’s not a role model. This is like the president of the United States saying he doesn’t want press coverage. Star black athletes have no choice about being role models. The only choice they have is what type of models they choose to be.

King and Barkley were discussing Kobe Bryant and the formal rape charges against him. These criminal charges obviously have important personal consequences to the basketball superstar and to the alleged victim. But aside from what occurs in the legal arena, Bryant already is a guilty man when it comes to the damage he’s caused in the communities he influences the most. Our nation’s black youth idolize Bryant, but the example he sets undermines the very values – family, marital fidelity, sexual responsibility – crucial for their future.

Here’s what I am talking about:

  • 60 percent of black children grow up in fatherless homes.

  • 790,000 black men are in jail or prison.

  • 70 percent of black babies are born to unwed mothers.

  • 320,000 black babies are aborted annually.

  • Blacks account for more than half of new AIDS cases.

Black political leadership loves to blame this pathetic and depressing picture on racism. However, the message of moral relativism and uncontrolled sexual passions that many black athletes deliver to the young black men and women who worship them does far more damage than the feelings harbored by any white racist. Black Americans can’t control what they feel. But, we can control what we do.

It doesn’t take advanced degrees in psychology to understand that children live by what they are taught. Children from broken homes – with no father who goes to work, loves them and teaches them about values and responsibility – will look outside for guidance because there is nowhere else to look.

Unfortunately, too often what they are taught by athletes, celebrities and the elite liberal left is that life is an empty ride, that it’s all about what you get and has nothing to do with who you are.

Blacks do have good reason to feel they are shortchanged by mainstream American culture. Our Supreme Court in its recent decision overturning Texas’ sodomy prohibitions suggests that private behavior is of no public concern, conveys to our vulnerable black community that morality in America is unimportant.

So if Bryant is found not guilty of criminal charges and he and his wife kiss and make up, everything is OK. Forget about the millions of black children who have received a message that personal conduct – sexual and otherwise – is not relevant to how they approach life.

Again just the sad legacy of the Clintons vs. Monica Lewinski – where the meaning of life is all about money and power – while abuse of others is simply a blurred concept between consenting adults.

In addition, our politically correct public school system – where the only sin is to suggest there is such a thing – plays a key role in delivering a message daily to children that there are no objective moral standards for behavior. Government schools have long dismissed a concept of education as the transmission of values and wisdom. Instead, they deliver a message that the point of education is developing skills for financial acquisition.

But when financial gain is emphasized – and morality is not – too many kids decide there are potentially more efficient ways to make money quickly than sitting in classrooms, including dealing drugs. Others resort to welfare. Some of the weaker just give up while the stronger simply exploit people to get what they want.

The black community needs to restore its own sense of responsibility regardless of the distorted values predominant in American culture today. As part of this process, we need to hold our black celebrities accountable for their behavior.

Public figures need to start thinking about what their behavior means outside the selfish, self-indulgent world in which they live. These celebrities have received blessings outside the bounds of what most people will ever know. They must accept the deep sense of responsibility that goes with this. They need to start thinking about the millions of lives they help destroy through the irresponsible examples they set – and, more importantly, about the millions of lives they could save by setting a positive example.

Black leaders – business, political and religious – should insist on accountability from our celebrities. Enough damage has been done by placing the blame everywhere except in our own community.

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