TThe results of a YouGov survey to find the “most admired” people on Earth were published this week. Topping the male list is Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States (in the world most admired, the sexes are shyly separated). In second place is Bill Gates, an estimated $ 50 billion charity donor. But the real big actor is (of course) Cristiano Ronaldo, who ends 2021 by sweeping the neck of genocidal party dictator Xi Jinping for the title of third most admired man on the planet.
To a cynic this might sound like strange company. Below Ronaldo on the global admiration list are activists, philanthropists, hyper-visible despots, emissaries of the word of God on Earth.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has very good muscle definition. Its goals / games ratio is first rate. It looks like a living pop art piece called Sport Human No 3 or, depending on your perspective, an exceptionally good looking ice cream robot from the year 2091. It clearly smells great. What not to admire?
But in reality, the only value of this stuff is to illustrate a familiar confusion of scale. Footballers have always existed at the antipodes of this specter: gods and monsters, thugs and princes, objects of flattering veneration versus agents of moral panic. Ronaldo as the world’s fourth most admired man feels like the flip side of yet another wave of public sentiment this week, something much more serious, but rooted in the same core category confusion.
This is of course the Covid-19. As infections escalated and the game roster dissolved around the edges, the idea took hold that footballers in men’s professional soccer played the vaccines quickly and freely. Footballers, we hear, are lagging behind to get the jab. Footballers have let us down, plagued by conspiracy theory, ignorance, notions of their own exceptionalism.
It has become an accepted fact, the fuel for a thunderous opinion piece, a social media appeal, for innuendo about the hive-minded nonsense of rich working-class men. Footballers, who are not disproportionately vaccinated, should have their jab status coercively released. Footballers, who are not disproportionately vaccinated, should be deprived of their pay when they miss matches. Footballers, who are not disproportionately vaccinated, should be forced to pay the expenses of those who lose due to cancellations.
The good thing is. Except that a simple fact undermines it all. Footballers are not disproportionately unvaccinated. It can look like this if you dress well. But in any sane context, this is not really true.
The reality is this: 68% of footballers had been doubly vaccinated until the most recent statistics, including the Premier League. Look a little deeper and guess what? These figures are the same for men aged 20-30 in the UK population in general. Bottom line: footballers are not latecomers, not a special case. They just reflect everyone’s reality. Maybe you could even say that footballers do better than the general population. In the non-football world a quarter of people in this age group are obese. Correct less than a fifth will have a pre-existing health problem. No footballer is obese. They are the fittest people in the country. The most selfish inducements to get a jab are taken away.
With this in mind, achieving parity vaccination with their peers across the country is a decent effort. This is certainly not a reason for wringing their hands or for a series of false horrors that are stopping these monsters now. So where does it come from? How is it so easy for a fundamental fact – footballers: just like everyone else – to be dismissed in the name of performative rebuke?
As a footnote, it is of course necessary at times like these to show your own ideological papers. Why is this guy ruining a perfectly good divisive argument? What is his program? For what it’s worth, I’m totally pro-vaccines – pro all drugs – because I like not dying of disease. Juice me. I’ll swallow everything you’ve got. But then I spent 30 years drinking lager, smoking queers, gargling pot noodle dust, stuffing my arteries with steroid-fed animal flesh. No matter the toxic air, the industrial slurry, the microplastics in your bones, it’s that little bit of well-meaning diluted medicine that’s going to get you, eh?
So what to take away from all this? First, it might be good to stop hero worshiping footballers. The corollary of this familiar kind of rage – footballers like thugs, footballers like dunces, footballers like arrogant workers – is the tendency to gush, coo and laugh at these people the rest of the time. This is not limited to football supporters, but the prerogative of a certain type of journalist whose work is essentially a series of applause emojis, a seduction by the idea that talent, wealth, style and a beautifully lit social media feed impart a sort of cloudless. inner grace on everything from pandemic management to fiscal balance, to all the other things you believe in. It’s a very modern kind of idolatry. It will always lead to disappointment. Footballers: It’s just folk too.
And finally football is good for telling us other things. For example, taking a relentlessly polarized stance on any issue is a bad idea.
Come to think of it, creating a cohesive subset of people called “footballers” (one shared attribute: good at kicking a ball) is pretty ridiculous in the first place.
Two things seem certain. What these data tell us is that the footballing generation, the 20-30 year olds, is a bit atomized and alienated, held hostage by tides of confusing information. And that, through it all, players have taken risks to keep us entertained, pushing bodies to absolute aerobic capacity during a global lung and heart disease emergency.
Does that sound reasonable? Is there a real understanding of the risks, in the long term? Not really! It may even be something – wisely and within limits – to admire.