Good old Wayne Rooney has just received a two game ban and a thirty thousand pound fine for swearing audibly as part of a televised post-goal celebration. Swearing is repulsive and reflects poorly on the one doing it. Everyone of his righteous critics condemns Wayne because he has breached, in a serious way, a very elevated position of trust in which he has been placed. Wayne is part of that elect band of moral beacons that grace our society called 'role models'. These are people who because of the wide public audience focused on them and their every action are not only expected but also held liable to act with a degree of moral rectitude befitting the role of role model. The argument put forward seems to go like this:
Children are influenced by the actions of 'public figures', like sports stars, musicians, television 'personalities' and other 'celebrities';
If these public figure/role model do something that 'is considered "setting a bad example"' (such as directing the f-word at a television camera or failing a drugs test) then that figure is rightly condemned and should be subject to media and official sanction. Fine them! Ban them and send out the message to our vulnerable and tender offspring that such behaviour is not merely offensive but will not be tolerated.
Children must learn to respect authority, such as teachers and football referees (and the faint-hearted audiences of live high-level football). The role models MUST play their part in combating the moral erosion of our youth and future.
Swearing is ugly and we would be a much better society without it. Football referees ought not to face threats or disrespect from anyone. Nor should teachers, shopkeepers, little old ladies trying to cross the roads, or anyone else.
What I do not understand is why do we blame the football (and other) stars? Why are the media and sports authorities so vigilant against their public wrongdoing when it comes to swearing or showing dissent? Are the ills of our society, its crumbling and vacuous morality, and all else that is wrong the fault of Wayne Rooney?
Furthermore, how does one get elected as a 'role model'? If any member of the Royal family ever dares to express anything that might sound like an opinion a raucous moral panic ensues. Who voted for them? How dare they? The right or wrong or thought process behind such an opinion would be irrelevant. Who invests these role models with the duty to be better than others or set an example for the vulnerable members of the public? The argument always starts because the star is in the public eye. What brought this person into the public eye was not his moral rectitude, self discipline or deep sense of public duty. No one has become a great footballer because they wish to influence children to be well behaved, clean living, well spoken paragons of respectful and upright behaviour. Footballers become great because of their skills with the ball and hard work. No boy on the estates and parks of England is kicking the ball around with his mates discussing ethics and morals or celebrating goals by saying 'I say, what a jolly good shot!'. When these boys watch and hear Wayne (or see his lesser colleagues mouth the f-word, as they seem to do interminable times during the average televised match, without getting chastised by the media of Football Association) that is not where they have learned to use that or any other ugly word.
We must ask where have these boys, or others received any moral instruction. Football academies and clubs may or may not tell their players of their 'responsibilities' as 'public figures' or 'role models'. Yet where do young people learn how to conduct themselves, not only on sports fields but in life in general? How do we expect, or even demand, that a talented footballer, who may have no strong positive moral influences in his life to suddenly, when famous and wealthy to acquire an automatic sense of discipline, morality and responsibility, when such has never been demanded of him and would never be demanded of him were he not in such a public position?
If we examine television, particularly that which streams in via the same systems as football, we can see an excess of swearing in a variety of programs. No one is chastised for that. a young man at football is. We can see a variety of programs and advertisement glorying all manner of immoral or untoward conduct. There is no shortage of obnoxious heroes, but we do not fine them for behaviour because they are fictional or art. There is a sewer load of garbage on television much of which can have no positive influence on anyone, but we make a fuss over the ranting of a someone who through the talents of his feet has been made a role model.
Who else influences or guides children? Who do the parents and teachers admire and invoke as positive examples?
What needs to be recognised is not that footballers or other immature celebrities cannot spontaneously know how to control their natural exuberance upon hitting the limelight. Punishing or blaming them will not save society. We need to ask where are the moral and ethical guidelines for behaviour being instilled by parents and schools? The problem is not that footballers can be a bad influence, which they certainly can be, but rather the root lies at the elevation of talented sportsmen to icons. Our society does not promote ethical and moral behaviour. It elevates and celebrates the ability to manipulate and direct a ball. It buys satellite packages and sporting paraphernalia on the back of these role models. It buys its children magazines filled with celebrity, showing the girls, the cars the lifestyle, but not how the moral excellence springs into the personality with the lifestyle.
I do not know Wayne Rooney, or any other football stars for that matter. They are an influence on others, whose parents and teachers are only to happy to expose their children to this influence. I do not understand by what mechanism a young person, who is more talented than his peers with the ball, but has no moral or spiritual advantage over any of them, can somehow, on the basis of fame, suddenly acquire the skills, maturity or strength to control their behaviour and testosterone.
If your daughter came to you asking for advice on abortion or the birds and the bees who would you phone for advice? The football academy of your local club? Your sporting or music hero? Would you contact the FA if your child was involved in an unwanted pregnancy or on drugs? Footballers may be a bad influence on young people, but who invites them in to our home and why should they shoulder so much of the blame when there may be other negative influences and no real safeguards closer to home?
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