The issue at the heart of recent footballer fiascos is acceptance of the responsibility that comes with celebrity.
In many ways, it is the football establishment that has dropped the ball by not adequately preparing players for the considerable risk that celebrity can pose to their personal and professional reputations.
It is astounding that in this modern football age, which uses sophisticated training regimes including GPS tracking of players, and which depends upon split second decision-making by finely-tuned athletes, that little attempt is made to simultaneously develop the decision-making capability of these testosterone-laden men off the field.
It is astounding that in this modern football age, where literally millions of dollars are invested in the various football brands, that each player is not constantly drilled with the 24/7 responsibility he carries to protect the integrity of the brand and therefore his own livelihood.
Why is this so? In part, I believe this can be attributed to our own willingness to let successful professional sportsmen get away with blokish and yobbish behaviour. It is a combination of the “boys will be boys” deflection with the “win at any cost” mentality.
At the heart of this, it is the fans who condone the behaviour, and so the football management and sponsors follow suit.
Professional footballers can be paid up to 2-3 times more than the politicians who run our country. The politicians know that they are under constant scrutiny by the community and, while there are some notable exceptions, most act accordingly.
Conversely, professional footballers are led to believe – by management and by fans – that they are publicly accountable only for their actions on the field and that what happens after the game is nobody’s business but their own. This selective accountability is magnified if the individual is particularly talented or his club is high on the ladder.
It is indeed true that what happens in an individual’s private life is their own business. Equally though, each person must also conduct themselves in a way to ensure that their private life does not spill into and adversely impact their public life.
Surely the time has come to teach these men that their playing career is a job, not a game, and that it should be taken seriously – both on and off field. Surely the time has come for alcohol to be ruled out of a professional footballer’s life – as it is for many other professional athletes.
Surely the time has come for football management to equip these young men with the awareness and skills necessary to realise they don’t have to get drunk to have a good time, don’t have to flash their bits to have a laugh, and don’t have to demean a eoman to feel like a man.
Surely its time for the fans to realise that we have created a monster and to start demanding better behaviour from our sporting heroes.
Post script: The “St Kilda schoolgirl” posted a very similar piece of advice on her blog in February.
This post also appeared at The Notion Factory.