Sports personalities are often packaged as role models for future generations, implying that their workj and perseverance has paid off, and one should emulate this. One consequence is that when a sport star emerges, it should attract many in his sphere of influence to do the same thing. An example would Tiger Woods enticing many blacks to pick up golf. This is much like many boys would to become firemen after seeing a firetruck rushing down the road. But does this work at all?
Arne Feddersen, Sven Jacobsen and Wolfgang Maennig analyze the supposed Boris Becker effect, that more people picked up a tennis racket with the successes of Boris Becker, Stefi Graf and Michael Stich. Well, it turns out it did not work that way at all. With the rise of these stars, tennis memberships went down, and after their retirement, they went further down. The latter efect would be expected, but not the first. While this is just one data point in studying the impact of role models, it is quite puzzling. The authors have three untested hypotheses: fatigue from over-exposure to tennis, the belief that such performances can only be the result of doping, and discouragement that the stars' results are unreachable. Intuitively, I have my doubts about all three. This remains a puzzle.