Football/Soccer

Kenny Archer: Sports people ARE role models - for good and for bad

Carl Frampton, during a recent visit to Kenya with Trócaire, is a refreshing example of how sportspeople can use their status in a positive way.
Picture: Justin Kernoghan

THIS column was part-written last week, then shelved for something more topical. Yet even apparently timeless themes can be overtaken by events.

At the risk of stopping anyone from reading on, the central contention was about bad behaviour from certain sportspeople and the bleating from them and their acolytes that 'they're not role models'.

Several England cricketers were in my thinking, but there could have been a choice of miscreants from other sports, and there surely will be more culprits to be considered.

Fifteen to 20 years ago this paper used to compile a weekly column about world sport until even we got bored of filling it with reports of the felonious behaviour of American footballers, basketballers, and baseballers.

Obviously there are many bad examples from outside the USA, but the wealth of that nation and its sports does appear to be a notable factor.

There are many mathematical models deployed in sporting analysis nowadays but perhaps there's room for one more.

What needs to be worked out is how close the correlation is between rising earnings and falling standards of behaviour.

We could call it the 'Wealth against lout level yobbery' (WALLY) index, if the wrongdoing weren't sometimes altogether more serious than being a bit of a wally.

My theory is that it's probably a bell curve, with boorishness and brashness steadily rising until a tipping point when players realise they have too much to lose by hitting the booze (or someone else – or something even stronger than alcohol).

After that stage, earnings may continue to rise but behaviour gets better (or at least better hidden from the public gaze). Mostly.

Avoiding exposure for misdeeds is increasingly difficult due to the prevalence of camera-phones and the ease of putting pictures and videos out on social media to a worldwide audience.

Drug-addled debauchery and violence can still be exposed if it's committed in public rather than at private parties or gatherings.

Of course, sportspeople (mostly sportsmen) have always enjoyed 'letting their hair down', and they're still entitled to do so, within the law.

However, as the income for some has increased far above the average working wage – to the extent that the average weekly pay in the English Premier League is now more than £50,000, for just one example – then scrutiny has increased accordingly. As has criticism of bad behaviour.

There may well be jealousy involved in that, and clearly it's not easy trying to live your life in the public gaze and amid the glare of publicity, but massive amounts of money are a fair compensation for such drawbacks.

Besides I'm tired of those who 'argue' that 'Sportspeople shouldn't be regarded as role models, parents should be, teachers should be…'

Sad to say – especially for my teacher friends and relations – but parents and teachers aren't glamorous and exciting, certainly not in comparison to sports stars.

There shouldn't be war and genocide and poverty in the world but there are.

And sportspeople ARE role models; that's just the way it is.

Any sportsperson who truly doesn't want to be a role model can opt out of the obligation by refusing all sponsorship, refusing all free cars, free food and drink, free clothing, free supplements, free entry to nightclubs.

Do they really think – or expect anyone else to believe – that they are given all these goodies and freebies simply because they're good at sport?

No, they get them because young people (and people who still think they're young) are impressed and influenced by sports stars, and want to dress like them, eat and drink what they consume, go to the same places they go to, and so on.

Yes, we know it's a short career – but you earn loads, and you're not prevented from earning a living after your sporting career comes to an end.

Yet even last week I had also written the following phrases: in reality, there's no universal model to predict behavioural patterns. Instead, it's down to each individual's character.

Obviously many sportspeople are wonderful people who do great work for charities and the underprivileged.

That aspect became more evident over the past week with the emergence of the 'Gaelic Voices For Change' campaign, highlighting the issues of homelessness on this island.

Sure, GAA players are still officially amateur but many have elevated – elite – status within their communities, but admirably they remain part of those communities and many show their commitment to help those less fortunate, and have done for decades.

The positive side of sport was also shown with boxer Carl Frampton on a fundraising visit to Kenya with Trocaire, although we already knew he was a good guy too.

The point is that sports stars shouldn't worry about being labelled 'role models', rather they should revel in and make the most of that opportunity.

They can be role models for good as much as for bad.

At the risk of going a bit Michael Jackson, they can make the world a better place by the good example they show.

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