The difference between Jeremy Lin and Derrick Rose, in regards to being a role model, is the difference between what is expected and what is exceptional in terms of what people presume from an individual.
Derrick Rose is humble, has never been arrested, does charity work, cares for his teammates, and works hard on the court. All this is true. But is there really anything exceptional to this? Of course not; all of this should be expected. You're supposed to be humble, you're supposed to not get arrested, you're supposed to volunteer, and you're supposed to work hard. To actually list these as reasons for Derrick Rose to be held as a role model not only diminishes him as an individual but lowers our standards for role models and belittles our already low opinion of professional athletes. Presumably, the bar has been battered down so low in professional sports what was once expected is now exceptional; what was once customary is now extraordinary.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't respect Derrick Rose.
It also doesn't mean we can't view Derrick Rose as a role model.
We ought to.
Just don't tell me he's a better role model than Jeremy Lin, because he is not.
Notwithstanding a settled SAT score issue in high school, Derrick Rose has led a life which we can all look up to. But I'll be looking at Jeremy Lin first when it comes to being a role model. By now you've heard the story, and listing all the unique and remarkable events in Jeremy Lin's life will be a litany of resignation. You've also heard the racist slurs directed at him, surprisingly coming from a cross-section of Americans, despite which he still succeeds.
What does Jeremy Lin say to the racists and the dummies? No comment - No comment directed at the suits at ESPN, no comment directed at Jason Whitlock, no comment directed at Floyd Mayweather, no comment directed at certain New York radio media, and no comment directed at an offensive and racist faction of twitter users. What Jeremy Lin has said, done, and is doing, before our eyes, is truly exceptional. It is not customary, it is not expected, it is even beyond being simply exemplary. There is nothing average about it, both in and out of basketball.
Jeremy Lin can, without a doubt, screw up tomorrow. He can get caught with cocaine and a hooker at a New York City club or during a long West Coast trip. He can say yes to a date with Kim Kardashian. An old arrest warrant could come out from his past or an old girlfriend could claim abuse (It has recently been reported that he sometimes eats junk food and plays video games in his spare time, yikes!).
We've all seen stars come crashing down. We almost anticipate it now. Indeed, with all the media coverage bestowed upon him, it may come sooner rather than later. Until then, however, look to Jeremy Lin when the role model question arises. We should continue to use traits such as being "humble" and "working hard" as tests for being a role model, but we should expect more, much more. We should not settle for just these if we want to push ourselves to new heights. If we do settle, we would be diminishing the concept of role models, diminishing the heroes we cheer for, and diminishing our potential to one day become role models ourselves.
A number of comments are in the same vein so I'll add one of my responses here to address them all:
A lot of people are missing this point: the no comment issue is not a support for the thesis. It's noted, but I'm essentially indifferent to it. Moreover, we all know the story of these two players. Rose is a role model. Our city is blessed with talented and driven kids & young people. Rose is not the first Chicago athlete to make Chicago proud and he will not be the last. Our city is very lucky in that way. Rose is humble and hard working, like I stated, these are traits we all should strive for, and everything today suggests Lin exhibits these traits as well. Lin's immigrant story, and the region of the world where his parents come from, are not common in the NBA. Lin's Harvard education is, again, not common in the NBA. Lin's D-league experience and the multiple cuts he endured, to now putting up the points and assists he has put up is, again, not common in the NBA. Lin's failure to garner any athletic scholarships after high school is, again, not common in the NBA. Even his strong Christian views are not that common, but I feel this to be changing in professional sports, and I’m not even going to get into his current living arrangements. Despite all these things, or because of them, he’s putting up the numbers he’s putting up and performing the way he is. When you say somebody came out of nowhere, there is essentially no better example. I view the totality as exceptional. Granted, it's still a subjective view. It's an opinion. I may change my mind if (or when) Jeremy Lin screws up. The media may break the man, and that will be a test of his character as well.