Model Behaviour expected of the Modern Sports Star

April 12, 2013
Charlie Raincock

When David Cameron condemned Suarez for Bitegate, with a reminder that he is a ‘role model’, it brought again to the fore the obligation we impose upon modern sports stars, and in particular footballers, to display model behaviour for the country’s youngsters. Is it a fair one?

To my mind, there is no question that professional sportspeople, in whatever code they earn their living, owe it to the fans of the game to behave in an appropriate way at all times on the field of play, and for those that govern their sport to make sure they do.

Having worked in sports PR for over two decades, I have come across a huge variety of professional sporting personalities. And be in no doubt, the diversity of these personalities has been nothing short of catnip when it comes to developing innovative promotional campaigns to leverage sports sponsorships. From both a work and sports fan perspective I could imagine nothing worse than professional sport being populated by automatons churned out by a one-size-fits-all conveyor belt.

However, whilst we enjoy personalities, the level of influence that sports stars now carry – as a result of the visibility of professional sport – imposes a proportional responsibility: on the player, the club, their sponsors, the league and the game.

Clearly the constant striving to be the best, and need to push themselves beyond the limits of normal human endeavour, will lead to moments of extreme pressure on sports stars, who are human after all. However, it is the responsibility of sport’s stakeholders to equip them for these moments, whether talent is home grown or imported, to ensure they don’t transgress, and if they do to punish them appropriately.

In the case of Suarez, Liverpool acted swiftly, but their actions look disappointingly self-serving and designed to mitigate damage rather than appropriately admonish the player’s behaviour. The club condemned Suarez’s actions and imposed a fine. But on the flipside, they were equally quick to confirm that he will not be sold, and their ‘shocked and disappointed’ reaction to the FA’s ten-game ban further demonstrates that the club is happy to keep players in line…as long as it doesn’t compromise the sporting or commercial performance of the club.

Whether this responsibility for model behaviour extends beyond the players’ place of work, i.e. the pitch or training ground, is a separate debate, but to my mind demonstrating clearly that RULES DO APPLY to these super stars when on the pitch will go at least some way to determining how they choose to behave off it.

That the Suarez incident coincided with the high profile retirement of one of modern sport’s greatest role models, Sir Chris Hoy, brought into sharp focus the size of the gulf that exists between the good and the bad.

Charlie Raincock

Image courtesy of Liverpool FC

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