It’s a tired old formula.
Sport player does something bad, controversial or stupid. The moral outrage brigade jumps up on their high horse. “These players are mentors, people look up to them” “I can’t believe anyone could do something like that”, “he should have known better”, “sportspeople are idiots, dickheads”, “sport X has a massive cultural problem”, “these entitled gen y kids don’t know how good they have it”. Invariably, these arguments end with some variation of “these selfish sports people are hurting the game, hurting the brand, hurting sponsors, how could they”.
There are many parts of the cycle that grate. The repetitiveness. The unoriginality. The banality of it all. Most of all though, it is the hypocrisy. One of the major reasons many of these fuck ups hurt “the brand”, hurt “the product” is the tactless, hyperbolic, breathless way they are written about. Indiscretions are gleefully jumped on as a chance to write as much morally indignant click bait as possible.
Small indiscretions are built into mountains, large indiscretions are dealt with in exactly the same manner, and meaningful lessons are lost in the churn of it all. From the perspective of a newspaper, pissing in your own mouth and rape allegations are the same thing. Click bait is king. As a sports fan, I think we deserve better. I think the game deserves better. I think the “product” deserves better.
To steal a recent phrase: as sports fans, it’s time for adult journalists to be in charge.
Sport holds up a mirror to society. It gives us a prism through which the good and the bad of humanity can be amplified. Courage, love, desire, compassion. Hate, anger, spite, violence. Off the sports field the same is true. Some sportspeople use the platform they have been given to do good.
They start charities, they highlight issues of importance. Some sports people make mistakes. Those mistakes focus attention on issues with society in general that are often ignored. This is why all those people who say that sport “is just a meaningless distraction, people should focus on what really matters” are wrong. Sport reflects society and thus can be used to make it better.
Sport isn’t meaningful because of the brand. Sport isn’t meaningful because of the sponsors. Sport isn’t meaningful because of the product. It’s meaningful because it is played by people. People who fuck up, people who do great things, people who make mistakes. Most importantly, those people are people we care about.
The next time a sportsperson is caught using or in possession of drugs, instead of moral outrage, I want to see it used as a chance to start a sensible discussion on drugs. Drugs are undoubtedly harmful. They are also widely used by people at all levels in society (heck I dare say some journalists have taken drugs). As recent events have illustrated, this also includes sportspeople. But it should be a chance for us to discuss how to best minimise the harms of drugs, to achieve better outcomes, to make society safer. To discuss ways we can improve society. It shouldn’t be about the damage to the brand.
The next time a sportsperson assaults their partner, I want to see that used by the people in the game to use the profile they have been given to tackle domestic violence. To highlight how common it is within society, to highlight the prevalence of partners murdering their partners. It shouldn’t be about the brand.
The next time rape allegations are levelled against a sportsperson, I want to see that used to highlight the appalling attitudes that many men in society have towards women. To highlight the importance of informed consent. I don’t want to hear about how it hurts the fucking brand.
The next time Todd Carney pisses in his own mouth, on his own time, with his own piss, I don’t want to hear about it. He isn’t hurting anybody.
The next time a player stands up for something they believe in and protests a perceived wrong or injustice, I want to see that used to highlight the perceived wrong or injustice. I don’t want to hear about how it hurts the fucking brand.
Because if all that matters is the brand, if coverage is simply clickbait and betting odds, maybe the doubters are right. Maybe sport really is just a meaningless distraction.