Huffpost UK Sport uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Scott Thompson Headshot

Why Do We Insist on Treating Footballers as Role Models?

Posted: Updated:

We constantly hear members of the media lambasting footballers for not acting like good role models or being poor examples for kids to look up to compared to other sportsmen, but why should we all be looking up to them in the first place?

The media relentlessly blitzes us with examples of footballers acting in ways which must apparently horrify parents, often coming hand in hand with comments such as 'you wouldn't see [insert other sportsman] doing that'. Now I'm not saying that footballers are perfect, I'm well aware that many of them are vile individuals; but what has our society come to when running around a football pitch for ninety minutes only to go home to a plastic glamour model is seen as the ultimate ambition a parent can have for their offspring? My point is that it's just ridiculous that they should be considered role models in the first place.

First of all I must defend the footballer. They have been on the end of some downright stupid accusations over the years from pundits. Minor incidents like seeing a player kick a corner flag or booting the ball away after being given offside have all too often resulted in the offenders being labelled as bad role models in the past. Come on, get a grip, we all lose our temper every now and then and if these are the biggest flaws in their characters then frankly they should be given a medal.

On the whole however the critics are sadly correct, footballers are terrible role models. Whether they are swearing at the referee, racially abusing each other or hiring OAP prostitutes in between burning their houses down with fireworks, it's not exactly how we'd want our children to lead their lives yet they are still referred to as role models. It seems that no matter what immoral act they carry out the media still thinks we're all aiming to be like them.

There are of course many traits held by footballers which should be applauded, such as creativity, courage, leadership qualities and sheer determination. Mind you, Hitler had most of those and that didn't work out too well for anyone. We mustn't forget that there are of course many footballers who have been consummate professionals throughout their careers, take Ryan Giggs (before the sex scandals) as a shining example and others like Clarke Carlisle who have even appeared on BBC Newsnight (we'll gloss over Joey Barton's less successful stint in Paxman's lair)!

Footballers are considered to be inferior to all other sportsmen when it comes to moral fibre but why is that? Sure, every day the papers are full of fresh reports of the latest star getting drunk or shooting a youth team player with an air rifle; but that's only the case because the press hound footballers more than any other type of sportsman. High profile names in all sports are prone to scandalous behaviour just take Tiger Woods (sex) and Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir (spot-fixing) for example.

If there has ever been a sportsman worthy of the 'role model' tag then it has to be Lance Armstrong. Just watch that scene in Dodgeball to see why. Not only is he one of the greatest cyclists of all time but he was taken down by cancer, beat it and returned to leave everyone in his slipstream once again. Then his doping scandal broke, the one bona fide person to look up to was a cheat.

Of course in a way it's not really the stars' faults that they behave in such a depraved manner. If you give 19 year olds more money than they can ever spend and treat them like gods with girls falling at their feet, all under the watchful eye of a photographer; then you are always going to catch them up to no good. We put them up on a pedestal just so that we can see them fall.

The easy thing to say is that we should forget about sportsmen as role models and treat groundbreaking scientists or top fireman etc etc as the people we look up to. However the truth of the matter is that every sector or profession has its dark horses. Only recently we have seen the head of the CIA embroiled in a love triangle that wouldn't be out of place on Eastenders, and we have politicians who never cease to find new depths of disgrace. Just take a moment to think about the most successful person in your line of work, who's considered the god of accountancy or the head of your company? Have you met them? Were they nice? Are they squeaky clean? More often than not, when we get to meet our heroes they're not the welcoming parent-like figure we had created in our minds. Even Einstein for example had numerous affairs over his lifetime but at least he left us with relativity. All Wayne Rooney has done is score a few decent goals.

Everybody has their flaws, of course, but must we insist on treating footballers as role models? Do we really want to be telling our children that they should be trying to be a successful footballer? There's nothing sadder than listening to a middle aged man tell you how good at football his ten year old is, 'I think he might make it' he says excitedly, one can't help but wince.