This may shock you, but not all celebrities are great role models. Especially not celebrity athletes. Yet our judgment of these players deserves equal scrutiny. While I may do my best to defend the indefensible Balotelli and use Sergio Ramos‘ prison philanthropy to sarcastically mock overly simplistic moralization of sport, some people are just d-bags. Including us. And I don’t want my young and impressionable Junito to pick up bad habits.
So yes, the bebe saltamontes is out of his cast and bobbing around the house like a frog on amphetamines. But when he sat down to watch a bit of soccer with his old man, I quickly had to change the channel. Why? No, not a Wayne Rooney celebration. The culprit(s)? Rafael Van Der Vaart. Ibrahimovic. Even my beloved Mesut Ozil!
They are the kings of the potty mouth.
We live in a universe where the freedom of expression is under attack. Sir Alex criticizes refs and gets a touch line ban. Rooney celebrates by uttering vulgarities and also gets a ban. Yet, to the terror of toddlers’ parents everywhere, Ibrahimovic, Van der Vaart, and Ozil can juggle recently chewed gum with no repercussions. Not even a fine. What example are we setting for our youth? What example should we set? These questions raced through my mind as I pondered the eminent clasico-a-thon. And the Champions League.
So yeah, the bebe-saltamontes and I watched the emotion-less Spurs vs. Real Madrid game. On the one hand, part of me expected Gareth Bale to do something. But he didn’t. Which kinda makes me think that Maicon is no longer the world’s best right back. It kinda makes me think that European and World Champion right back Sergio Ramos may not be so bad. Perchance? Perhaps? Pearl of a signing? Yes. And a premonition.
In the last decade of the Barcelona-Madrid rivalry, I’ve noticed an important correlation – the signing of a wingback from Sevilla precedes a period of sustained dominance. When Madrid signed Sergio Ramos from Sevilla, everybody thought Deco-Etoo-Dinho would win the Champions League back-to-back-to-back. But under Capello’s guidance, the Dutch trifecta plus Sergio won some La Ligas. Not bad.
But then Barcelona went and signed Daniel Alves. I am not one to rip directly on players. So let’s pretend that a scarecrow exists which embodies the spiritual entity of Dani Alves. I hate this scarecrow. Not because the scarecrow lacks talent, not because the scarecrow commits fouls, but solely because the scarecrow is a right-footed Roberto Carlos who signed for the wrong team. Everybody prepares the Messi Hall of Fame speech while counting Xavi’s passes and Iniesta’s game winning goals, yet the Brazilian wingback preceded this recent Barcelona hiccup of dominance.
Junito also dislikes Dani Alves. Yet Junito, at four years of age, has this belief while being impervious to the historical facts articulated above. Why did Junito dislike him? Because Dani Alves looks sinister. “Papy Elliott, verdad que es feo?” exclaimed my chele chulo. Si, I nodded. Yet how often do superficial reactions feed the spinning wheel of pretext-posing and excuse-spitting arguments? Did I also really, deep down, dislike Dani Scarecrow for the same reason?
The snap judgments we make on players based on appearances can create self-fulfilling narratives. This blinds us to the truth. Sir Alex the “tough as nails” Scot from Glasgow criticizes a decision-maker. Rooney the Scouser secondary school drop-out says a bad word. Off with their heads! Yet don’t the dirty gum chewing antics of Ozil, Ibra, and Van der Vaart set a similarly bad example? Where are the oral hygiene police? Children cannot curse at cameras, yet they should stick kicked-gum in their mouths?
Society too often punishes for the wrong reasons. In sport, the middle class fan can latch onto typically “lower class” behavior to point the finger and laugh. Class-based socialization and norms look hysterical until we hold up a mirror. Dani Alves is a devil until we ask ourselves – why? What instinct in our bodies paints him in this dark light, forcing our mind to rationalize (in the Freudian sense) our prejudices and, perhaps, fears? If Alves was white and Sir Alex was black, what would the universe smell like? Different, that’s how.
So, upon reflection, I told my chele chulo that Dani Alves was neither a devil nor feo. Chewing gum is okay. Chewing gum kicked by a foot is never okay, even if you are a rags-to-riches child of immigrants that raised yourself from poverty with preposterous foot-skills. And if you are an anglo-saxon that does not meet exacting norms of social behavior, you should not be singled out. Your privilege does not render you an easy effigy.
Junito kinda got the message, but will probably hit college before it starts to sink in. If he hits college. For now, he gladly mixes his chocolate with white leche while I blabber about.