I hope you are enjoying this England World Cup run. This has been the most exciting World Cup I can remember; I thought so before England were looking on for the win. I’m writing this just as half-time comes to a close, so we’re winning at the minute but – judging by the first half – Croatia look unlikely to impede our advance to the final.
I was wondering what to blog about when I happened upon this tweet from Sue Perkins:
Whatever happens tonight, a heartfelt thank you to the England football team. You’ve been such decent, positive and dedicated role models, and ambassadors for a nation currently struggling with its global image.
— Sue Perkins (@sueperkins) July 11, 2018
Whilst I think her view of the squad’s deportment is right – a blesséd improvement on the potent combination of arrogance and abject dreadfulness of the 2000s and early 2010s – I wanted to pick up on this idea of role models.
I just don’t know where this idea comes from. What is it about football players that people assume makes them a role model? I can’t see anything inherent about it and I certainly can’t see any reason why you would want to promote them as role models. If they are role models because of the iniquitous sums of money they earn, why don’t we consider high-end stockbrokers and bankers role models? If the main reason is that we don’t like the iniquitous things such people do with their amassed wealth, I’m struggling to see how that doesn’t apply here.
It certainly can’t come from a sense that the footballers themselves have sought the position of role model. I struggle to believe many YTS players, called up at 15, are desperate to play so they can be a role model to the next generation. I sense that is not the reason anybody wants to play for the top teams.
I suspect this idea comes less from anything sought by the footballers themselves, nor from any sense that parents are desperate for their kids to model themselves on football players, and more due to the fact that it is assumed that children are looking to footballers as role models. What do you do when your children refuse to model themselves on the sensible guys who worked hard at school, went to an acceptable university and then got a job in a reasonable accountancy firm that means they do OK but aren’t too flashy? If they will insist on modelling themselves on people we wish they wouldn’t, we resort to expecting their chosen role models to behave in ways that we deem sensible. The problem here, of course, is that teenagers look up to the people that they do because they are not the role models their parents would pick for them.
The question is whether those in the public eye should be considered role models, and have certain expectations placed upon their behaviour, simply by virtue of the fact that they happen to be in the public eye? Can parents (or anybody else) expect celebrities – and make no mistake, that is essentially all football players are – to be good role models for their children? Few of us seem to view other random celebrities as role models, so why especially pick out footballers?
To be honest, I don’t especially want my children taking their cue from football players (or other random celebrities). It doesn’t seem right to insist that those we have artificially deemed role models should behave in ways that meet whatever the unstated standard of being a role model happens to be that we have thrust upon them. Rather than getting narked when people who never took the role don’t live up to your unstated expectations, isn’t it better for parents to model things to their children? If you would like somebody outside of your family, why not acknowledge that sportspeople are often very poor role models and instead point them toward better folk to emulate (such as you feel you need that)?
It makes even less sense from a Christian point of view. We know full well that sin corrupts and people will let us down. Even those held up in scripture as generally good examples typically show some major failing that we would want our children to avoid. The only role model worth pointing our children to is Christ. Only those who closely emulate Jesus can function as decent role models for any believer, and we have to recognise that even those who seem much closer to his likeness than us will inevitably not image Christ perfectly.
As I’m writing this, Croatia have pulled one back. I really hope England make it through to the final. But, if they do, they won’t be adequate role models and never asked to be. Let us stop suggesting they are and perhaps we can take parental responsibility for modelling what is right to our own children. As Christians, let us point to the only role model worth emulating and let the behaviour of our sports stars be what it may.