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Is It A Footballer’s Job To Be A Role Model?

Do we really expect these men to act as role models for our kids?

Do we really expect these men to act as role models for our kids?

This article by me was also published on

According to FIFA one of the reasons Luis Suarez was punished so heavily was that he failed in his duty as role model to the worlds children. It was an accusation bandied about by our nations pundits and some still in the game.

David Dean, former chief executive of Arsenal was interviewed in the immediate aftermath and bemoaned the terrible example set to children everywhere. The implication is clear and we should all be braced for an epidemic of biting in playgrounds up and down the country. You would imagine that something akin to ‘World War Z’ is about to unfold in Uruguay.

There’s a lot of pressure and expectation placed upon footballers. They carry the hopes and dreams of entire countries on their shoulders at times. True they are often handsomely rewarded for this, but do we have the right to expect them to help us raise our children too?

What is a role model anyway? In my life I have used both positive and negative role models to help me choose my path. In the same way as some inspire, others show you how not to behave.

One of my heroes, Graham Souness famously floored an opponent (breaking his jaw in the process) in a European game at Anfield in the 80’s. I was in the Kop that night. We all saw it but the referee didn’t.

Strangely I felt no desire to go out and repeat the feat with my classmates the next day. Nor do I remember any reports of an increase of broken jaws turning up in emergency departments across the city.

Joey Barton  confronts Arsenal's  Gervinho

Joey Barton confronts Arsenal’s Gervinho


It’s for us to choose who to follow and who we should ignore. Of course parents and teachers guide us along the way, but not in my experience footballers.

If we genuinely expect these young men to set an example for our kids, then we are the real mad men (and women) in my view. Take a tour through the autobiography section of any book store and you will get my point.

The life stories of our footballing heroes are often punctuated by addiction, gambling, violence and mental illness. The joy in reading them is often in how the human spirit triumphs over the demons. Yet some of these same people are incapable of cutting their fellow pro’s any slack when they stumble.

There are many sporting icons who have rebuilt their lives and gone on to have successful careers, either in the game or the media. Take Paul Merson, Stan Collymore, Roy Keane for example. Some continue to struggle like Paul Gascoigne and others sadly lose their battles, like the late George Best.

Footballers are human beings. This is a fact often lost in the murky world of punditry,  a land infested with hypocrisy and occasionally downright bigotry.

Andy Gray and Richard Keys were able to rebuild their careers in the media, despite being outed as disgusting misogynists. What kind of example does this set?

Role Models? Keys and Gray

Role Models? Keys and Gray

Sometimes the bigotry is a bit more subtle, but no less offensive. Throughout Uruguay’s game against Colombia we were treated to a tour de force of racial stereotyping from Andy Townsend and Adrian Chiles.

Apparently, according to these two the entire nation of Uruguay are “masters of the dark arts” and “nobody likes them but they don’t care.” Chiles concluded the show by declaring “nobody is especially sorry to see Uruguay exit the competition.”

What are our nations school kids to make of the demonising of a whole country based on the behaviour of one man? It seems we don’t hold TV presenters to the same standards as Uruguayan strikers. Strange that isn’t it?

It’s actually hard to think of an area of public life where key figures haven’t set a bad example. Whether it be art, music, film, politics or journalism. They are not role models any more than sports stars are.

If we based our behavioural norms on the activities of celebrities, then civilisation would be truly lost. Learning to become a good person (whatever that means) is far more complicated than that.

Luis Suarez will serve his ban. He deserved to be punished for what he did. He will continue to be a great footballer, whether it be in England or Spain. This is what he was born to do.

He will inspire kids all over the world with his skill and work rate on the football pitch. He probably won’t teach them any lessons in social etiquette, but then few footballers ever have. After all that’s not their job is it?

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