Columnists

Brendan Crossan: Looking in a different direction to find our inspiring role models

Anto Finnegan's inspiring speech at The Irish News' Club and Volunteer Awards in 2015 made an indelible mark on everybody

IT’S difficult to see a way back for Jamie Carragher after the spitting footage went viral earlier this week.

Sky, his employers, have put him on gardening leave until the end of the season.

It’s a wise decision as it buys them time to decide whether to retain his services or dispense with one of their most popular football pundits.

Before viewing 'gob-gate' on social media I automatically assumed the former Liverpool defender had been heavily provoked into such a low act.

Perhaps the guy in the other car had insulted his family or threatened him in some shape or form.

What was shocking about the mobile phone footage was the meek nature of the provocation.

“Two-one, Jamie.”

Carragher’s reaction was outrageous. It was a despicable act from someone who obviously thought they were untouchable.

Carragher mightn’t regard himself as a role model but with his public profile comes responsibility.

That responsibility shouldn’t be too burdensome. You just keep your car window up and look straight ahead.

You pose for a few 'selfies', scribble a few autographs, smile and be on your way.

I was reminded on Twitter during the week that Ryan Giggs netted the Wales job in spite of the alleged controversy surrounding his private life.

John Terry recovered quite well from his few off-field misdemeanours.

Likewise, Wayne Rooney.

Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans apologised for his involvement in a “taxi theft” in Spain while on a club trip with West Brom and later reclaimed the captain’s armband.

You could be forgiven in thinking that we are surrounded by bad role models.

MMA superstar Conor McGregor was interviewed on RTE’s The Late, Late Show a couple of months ago and articulated his ambition to become a billionaire.

The young generation love McGregor – his brashness, his swagger, his devil-may-care attitude, his loud mouth and crassness.

And that’s part of the problem.

Bad behaviour gains a lot of media attention.

Bad behaviour becomes an accepted feature of society.

Bad behaviour doesn’t shock us any longer.

Bad behaviour: it is what it is.

We shrug our shoulders and all the while our own values and belief systems become a little more pliable.

Growing up, I idolised heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

The God-fearing Atlanta, Georgia native was the perfect role model. In my eyes, there was nobody like Holyfield.

He never trash-talked before fights. He respected the sport of boxing and his opponents.

He travelled from cruiserweight up the heavyweight ranks and, against the odds, conquered great fighters such as Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson.

“What made Holyfield so unique was his tremendous heart,” the late Emanuel Steward told me in 2004.

“His win over Riddick Bowe (the second fight) was one of his masterpieces in the ring and obviously his victory over Mike Tyson a few years later.

“He’s fought a lot of exciting fights, but to beat a man like Bowe who was bigger and better in every way was amazing.

“I’ve never saw anyone else that could do that... You would think that he’s tired or hurt in a fight and outta nowhere he would just explode all over again.”

They don’t make champions like Holyfield any more.

While the social media’s gaze might focus on public figures with bad-boy images, we don’t have to look too far to find opposite examples.

Juan Mata, the Manchester United midfielder, is the antidote to the modern-day celebrity footballer.

The Spaniard has used his fame and profile to raise money for good causes in a charity initiative entitled Common Goal where he has invited his peers to donate one per cent of their salaries to help socially and economically deprived parts of the world.

'Streetfootballworld' and Mata help “tackle social issues ranging from gender equality in India to peacebuilding in Colombia to refugee integration in Germany”.

There are as many good role models as there are bad. We just have to look in the right places.

Jonathan Walters is another inspiring figure for young sportspeople who maybe doubt their ability to succeed.

Walters is by no means an A-lister in the football world.

He’s not quick. He doesn’t have a trick. In fact, his actual ability would be classed as average.

But his attitude and resilience are sights to behold each and every time he walks onto a football field.

In conversation with journalist Keith Duggan, Mickey Harte’s words on coping with grief were as instructive as they were a soothing balm to those enduring the same process.

“There comes a stage when you realise that the sun will never shine the same way again,” said Harte.

“The smell of cut grass . . . the things that touch your senses: you think they will never be as good.

“But with the help of God, and with prayer and time, you begin to realise: well, that is how you felt then.

“But the more you travel on this journey, you can get back nearer to appreciating those wonderful things of creation again. And so it never will be exactly the same. But it still can be very good.”

Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr showed tremendous courage by talking openly of how he coped with his father’s passing five years ago.

The big St Gall’s man, in his own way, inspired those who read his heartfelt words.

Inspiration comes in different forms.

I saw it in Chris Curran at Windsor Park on Tuesday night.

When the Irish Cup quarter-final between Linfield and Cliftonville was crying out for somebody to make a difference, the Cliftonville winger displayed the moral courage.

Quiet, unassuming and inspiring.

Look under the next rock and you’ll find someone like Stephen Sheridan of Forkhill – a glowing parable for never giving up and who made a friend out of adversity.

Local sport is full of inspiring examples. You couldn’t help but feel good watching Tomas O Se rage against the dying light for Nemo Rangers against Slaughtneil a couple of weeks ago.

The pleasure was all ours.

Likewise, Neil McManus’s courageous performance against the Dublin hurlers.

It didn’t matter that Antrim lost the game because there was probably a batch of young kids with hurls who wanted to be like McManus upon leaving Corrigan Park last month.

Anto Finnegan’s goose-bumped speech at The Irish News Club and Volunteer Awards left an indelible mark on those in the room on that sunny May afternoon in 2015.

Katie Taylor. Stephen Kenny. Seamus Coleman. James McClean for being himself.

And every time I watch Lionel Messi play football.

Shane Dowling’s majestic goal against Slaughtneil. Con O’Callaghan. Noel McGrath. The Clare hurlers of the mid-90s.

I used to love watching Johnny Doyle of Kildare playing football. A game to him was life itself.

He never won an All-Ireland. But, to me, Johnny Doyle never suffered a defeat on a football field.

You think of all those people and then you think of Jamie Carragher, a member of the privileged class. Untouchable. Arrogant.

Do we really need to see his TV comeback next season?

Surely there is somebody better out there...

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