The blind leading the blind

Why Troy Deeney’s comments on sporting role models don’t go far enough

In early March, Watford striker Troy Deeney, during an interview on knife crime reduction and social media, made a significant comment on footballing culture. He noted that it would be “lazy” to call footballers and celebrities role models, something one would think is common in our modern age. However, it caught the attention of media outlets across the footballing world, dividing many, including myself, who saw it as yet another example of both football’s hypocrisy, and idiocy, in “tackling” wider societal issues.

There was considerable debate around whether Deeney was correct, and whether children can indeed benefit from looking up to their favorite sporting stars. Regardless of this, it is clear in my eyes that sports fanatics and media outlets have been ignorant in their considerations. Asking whether sports stars should be idolised, immortalised, and canonised ahead of role models such as family members or other members of society, shows that they have missed the true question; whether they deserve to even be called role models in the first place.

Often we look at the typical footballer as someone with an immense work ethic and physical ability. Who wouldn’t want to emulate such attributes? As a college student who has set foot in his gym only twice since beginning my course, this certainly seems attractive. Yet in our world such characteristics will only carry us so far. These stars offer us no insight into emotional understanding, personal relationships, or other intimate details of our social lives. Or do we rather idolise them for their big houses, flashy cars, and flashy branding deals with Nike, Adidas, and the likes? Regardless, these are not sufficient to grow as a person.

Looking back on my golden years of football fanaticism, I look somewhat fondly on the great 2007/08 Manchester United front three of Tevez, Ronaldo, and Rooney. While appreciating their footballing prowess, in my hopefully wiser, post-pubescent years I can’t help but think of them prosaically as: the man guilty of speeding and ignoring court letters, the adulterer who turned to prostitution, and the man who evaded almost €19 million in taxes, alongside paying off those who accused him of rape.

“It is possible to separate the man from his craft, and that is something that should be done here.”

We can squabble over the motivations and context of these moral trainwrecks, but can we honestly say that we would want the youth of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps? No one can deny that these players have, in past years, remained at the pinnacle of their sport, with all three courting high profile media coverage following transfer moves, numerous Champions League victories, and a “career revival” in Major League Soccer. However, it is possible to separate the man from his craft, and that is something that should be done here.

This makes it immediately clear that, when Troy Deeney says that we should turn to other figures in our community before we turn to our puritan sports stars, he has missed the point. We need to ask ourselves whether these sports deserve to be turned to in the first place, and in many cases, the answer is that they simply do not.

One might argue that people with such work ethic, ability, and a platform which has the potential to be used for good, might warrant being given a second chance. However, this is simply not the case. Players are like all of us, in that they do a job, they get paid, and they go home; albeit being paid astronomical amounts of money to return to their astronomically-sized homes. They simply do not deserve to be given a pass on their transgressions, no matter how egregious, just because of their sporting ability.

“It is the blind eye turned to these issues that is the problem.”

However, this is what the modern game practices. We have seen Wayne Rooney invited to return to the England lineup for a final appearance, heralded as a national hero at the end of last year. In the eyes of an impressionable teenager, who in the age of technology, would inevitably be aware of Wayne Rooney’s past wrongdoings, is it simply a question of ignoring one’s wrongdoing and moving on? What type of message does this send to young people about responsibility and consequences?

Furthermore, the position of sporting institutions show exactly why this is an issue, as they exercise a backwards and ignorant view on the issue of player morality and idolisation. However, this is not to say that institutions should become moral safeguards or policing institutions. It is the blind eye turned to these issues that is the problem. Should footballers be simply marketed as the sometimes disappointing players that they are, it would be inevitable that leagues would lose their appeal.

Deeney’s comments once again show the arrogance of the modern game. This is one view which shows an insular, naive view of sportsmen, as moral arbiters of the modern world. Simply put, they show us that it is ok to move past wrongdoing, generally without consequence, and almost definitely with no sign of remorse.

His idea that we should focus on members of our communities, or family members, while true, is misunderstood. It is not simply a debate that suggests that sports stars should be considered second to members of the wider community, but it is one that should ask whether they deserve to be recognised at all. This, in the context of countless sporting scandals has led one to ask whether they can really see the benefits of, and revel in what clearly falls short of being the “beautiful game”.

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly is the current Assistant Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister Law student, and a former Deputy News Editor.