There is an adage popularised by Spider-Man in Marvel comics, films and related media that says, "With great power comes great responsibility."
In the age of satellite and social media, what could be a greater power than to be a role model whom millions of people, especially the younger generation around the world, follow? Hence, it becomes imperative for these role models to epitomise their best selves while they stand before the world.
We can take a look back at the instance when Sachin Tendulkar shared the reason why he never endorsed tobacco products or alcohol. Tendulkar attributed this choice to his father's sage counsel, who envisioned him as a beacon of virtue for future generations.
"This was a promise I made to my father. He told me I am a role model, and a lot of people will follow what I do. That is why I have never endorsed tobacco products or alcohol. In the 1990s my bat didn't have a sticker on it, I didn't have a contract. But everybody else in the team was endorsing two brands in particular – Wills and Four Square," recalled Tendulkar during an interview in 2020.
Indeed, owing to their visible success on the field as well as worldwide prominence, sportspersons often find themselves cast as role models. Sometimes their influence transcends that of national leaders or politicians. In our subcontinent, cricketers, in particular, assume this role, with their every action closely observed by devout fans who strive to emulate their heroes in their own lives.
However, it's necessary to remember that in India, sportspersons aren't alone. There is Bollywood, especially the three Khans as well as the Bachchans and Kapoors, who also enjoy their fair share of stardom alongside the Kohlis and Sharmas.
But in Bangladesh, there isn't any film star of note with an equal level of credibility that our national cricketers possess. So, it is safe to say that cricketers are the only role models in our country with a nod of acceptance from all ages and classes of the population.
Yet, a lingering question persists: Do our national cricketers really deserve to be role models? More precisely, do they possess the moral fortitude akin to someone like Sachin Tendulkar, or are they equipped with a guiding compass similar to the one provided by Sachin's father, enabling them to be authentic role models for the youth of our nation?
Regrettably, the fitting response to all these inquiries would be a big 'no.'
Just a fortnight ago, the discovery of emerging cricketer Tanzim Hasan Sakib's older Facebook posts revealed that he holds misogynistic views, casually demeaning women and showing disregard for the significance of women's rights, especially concerning education and empowerment.
Another recent occurrence that might have escaped the notice of many is the ICC's anti-corruption unit bringing charges against Bangladesh all-rounder Nasir Hossain for suspected corrupt activities during the Abu Dhabi T10 tournament.
Ironically, these two examples merely scratch the surface of the long list of controversial actions in which Bangladeshi national cricketers or the so-called role models have embroiled themselves over the last decade, starting from Mohammad Ashraful getting banned from international cricket for match-fixing in 2014.
Bangladesh might not be in the running for a shot at the title of world champions in cricket anytime soon but they can certainly boast an outstanding record that stands unrivalled among Test-playing nations: Getting three national cricketers behind bars in, as Athar Ali Khan would say, back-to-back three years.
It all began with Rubel Hossain back in 2015, just before the World Cup, facing charges of rape. In a bizarre turn of events, he was eventually released on the grounds of 'national interest.'
The following year, Shahadat Hossain had his moment in the spotlight when he and his wife were involved in the torturing of a minor house help. Another jailed cricketer Arafat Sunny was accused of sending indecent pictures to a female friend on Facebook messenger.
Notably, there have been other scandals involving the likes of Sabbir Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain and Al-Amin Hossain, as well as the already-mentioned Shahadat and Nasir. And all these incidents shed light on the questionable morality of some of our national cricketers.
You may argue whether these aforementioned cricketers are really considered role models by the majority of the nation. But when it comes to Shakib Al Hasan, unarguably the best cricketer Bangladesh has ever produced, there shouldn't remain any shadow of a doubt.
Shakib has been the poster boy of Bangladesh to the outer world since at least 2009 when he first claimed the No.1 ODI all-rounder spot and earned the title of The Wisden Cricketer magazine's World Test Player of the Year.
Shakib has consistently dazzled on the cricket field, but his off-field actions have often landed him in hot water. Especially in recent years, he has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Earlier this year, in March, he faced heavy criticism for participating in the inauguration of a jewellery shop in Dubai owned by a fugitive murder suspect, Arav Khan.
Leading up to that, Shakib had also been under the media's watchful eye as his name became associated with individuals involved in controversial activities in the stock market. There were allegations of him not paying his employees the due amount at his crab firm and entering into an endorsement deal with a betting website as well.
In 2019, Shakib was also banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for two years for failing to report an approach from a bookie.
What's remarkable about Shakib is that whenever he encounters criticism from the socially conscious segment of the population, he rises to the occasion with exceptional performances on the field. This often leads the populist media to proclaim, "Shakib has silenced his critics with his brilliant cricketing displays."
Most recently, we also witnessed a similar scenario as many people were rallying behind Tanzim Hasan Sakib because of his match-winning performance against India in the Asia Cup.
Yet, even if he had scored a century or taken five wickets in that match, it wouldn't change the fact that his derogatory comments about women were utterly inappropriate.
It is crucial to recognise that a cricketer's on-field excellence can never absolve unethical off-field actions. These are two distinct realms that should not be conflated. Therefore, it is high time we stopped mixing on-field performances with off-field controversies, even more so if we want to preserve the concept of role models.
Otherwise, our future generations might receive the misguided impression that committing any transgression is acceptable as long as they excel in their professional fields. This course of action could lead our country toward perilous consequences.