Professional Football Players as Role Models
A couple of stories this week threw up some interesting questions regarding the on-going debate over the expectations that we have of football players as role models and ambassadors.
The first is a story in the UK that’s now turned into a bit of a saga it seems. It involves a charity called Stonewall that addresses the needs of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in the wider community that has sent rainbow-coloured laces to all professional clubs in England and Scotland asking their players to wear them at matches this weekend in support of gay players.
The second was out earlier in the week and is about the Brazilian player Kaka, who’s now back at AC Milan after his time at Real Madrid. Unfortunately Kaka recently injured his thigh and will be out for some time. Kaka, not wanting to be a financial burden to his new club, went on the record to say that he would prefer it if his club stopped paying his wages until he was fit to play again.
It’s not the aim of this article to concentrate on the involvement of the betting company in the first story, or the alleged lack of communication with the clubs and league that went ahead of the Stonewall campaign. But it is very poignant that once again – following the request last season that players wear the anti-racism charity Kick it Out’s campaign T-shirts during their warm ups – professional footballers have been identified for the huge communication platform they possess to further the causes of a charity.
It’s worth pointing out that among these will be the same footballers that are regularly brandished for their inappropriate comments on social media sites, head-butting opponents, stubbing cigarettes out in teammates’ eyes, setting off fireworks inside houses, and other generally anti-social behaviour that sends out completely the wrong message to young fans, not to mention dissolving the importance of any social messages they transmit.
And yet, on the other hand, you’ve got players like Kaka, who are natural role models and who epitomise the good that can come from having such a large media influence. Others that come to mind in this vein are (another AC Milan player) Kevin Prince Boateng and ex-player Lilian Thuram, who are both supporting the fight against racism, and doing so much to fulfil the potential of their celebrity to raise awareness of the cause. There are plenty of others too – many out of the global limelight but offering a great benefit to society at the community level.
It’s a measure of the value placed on this communication channel that charities and indeed corporate sponsors are taking such an enormous risk – see also Tiger Woods, Oscar Pistorius, and Lance Armstrong – to endorse their brand or social cause.
And yet with all that has happened so far, it still seems that we’re at the beginning of this practice, and that those who are involved in working with players are still trying to find the winning formula. These kind of awareness-raising campaigns can only increase as professional sport and corresponding media coverage become available on even more platforms (is that possible?!), so it’s going to be interesting to see how the practice develops.
Discounting the pre-requisite for charities to be savvy and innovative in order to get through the cracks in sponsorship contracts (that’s another opinion piece!), players will be called on more and more to make judgements on whether or not to support social issues, and thus to act more as role models. In this scenario, it’s likely that we’ll see more players hiring advisory agencies in order to polish their personas, not to mention learning how to stay out of trouble and deal with the media. This may mean that we lose some of the authenticity and closeness to players that many of us have grown up being used to but, with the focus of attention and expectation that is now on them, can this development be avoided? For all we know, even Kaka was advised.