Friday, 10 September 2010

The Wayne Rooney Saga: There is no longer such a thing as a 'private life' for modern day sports stars

The first post I ever wrote on Polly's Pause for Sport was concerning John Terry's affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. Now, like then, an England player is making the headlines for non-football reasons. Wayne Rooney is the latest English footballer to have his reputation dragged into disrepute following an alleged affair he had with two prostitutes in a Manchester hotel while his wife, Coleen, was pregnant with their child, Kai.

Seven months has passed since John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy for his off-the-field antics and nothing has changed. The concept of a private or personal life is little more than a fleeting dream for the modern footballer. Only that which you can keep hidden from the press will remain private. The rest will be thrust under the public spotlight, regardless of the collateral damage it causes.

Obviously I am not condoning adulterous behaviour. I would ask the question though, why does the rest of the world need to know what an individual does in their 'private' life? If it does not impact upon them professionally then why should we allow scandals to hold such gravitas in public opinion?

While news about Rooney ought to be about his return to form, instead, the unquenchable thirst for details about the seedy events of that night in June 2009 means that this story will continue to dominate the newspapers and websites for a while yet. Personally, I do not care what Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Tiger Woods or anyone else do in their own time. They should not have to sacrifice the right to a private life simply because they play sport for a living.

Many are quick to wag the finger and claim that people like Rooney are role models. This, although it may be true, is unfair. Role models are those in the public eye, those who people aspire to be like. They are in the public eye, of course, because they are extremely good at what they do and usually in some way controversial, not because they are shining example or how one ought to act. Is Amy Winehouse a good role model? What about Pete Doherty, Lindsay Lohan or even Kevin Pietersen? Almost certainly not.

The point I am trying to make is simple. They don't have to be role models. Judge Rooney on his football. Criticise him for his woeful World Cup performances for example, but there is no need to drag his, or indeed any other sportsmen's personal life into the public sphere. I am not naïve, though. These stories sell magazines and newspapers and thus they will always be scrutinised and plastered across the various media sources.

John Terry's affair did have an extra dimension insofar as it involved the mother to the children of an England team-mate. Capello acted decisively in February by dismissing the Chelsea defender as England captain. However, the precedent that Capello set during the John Terry saga was conveniently abandoned this week. When the news broke of Rooney's affair the national team squad were preparing for their European Championship qualifiers and the manager assured the press and fans that Rooney would play regardless.

Rooney faces a hostile trip to Goodison Park as Manchester United face Everton tomorrow lunchtime. Whether Ferguson will protect his striker from the booing mob by hiding him away is yet to be known. I hope Rooney plays so that, for ninety minutes at least, the focus can be on his football and not his private life.

Thought, comments and opinions please...

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