Monday 25 March 2019

Comment: 'Football over brains' - Sporting tributes should never be trivialised

Barcelona players pose for a team group photo wearing shirts in reference to Ousmane Dembele before the match
Barcelona players pose for a team group photo wearing shirts in reference to Ousmane Dembele before the match

Jack O'Toole

On Tuesday evening, FC Barcelona took to the pitch of the Nou Camp for another routine thrashing of a mid-table La Liga side.

Eibar were the unfortunate victims on this occasion, succumbing to a 6-1 shellacking by the league leaders where Lionel Messi scored his 300th goal at the Nou Camp, but the Gipuzkoa based side were not the only figure of sympathy in the Catalonian capital that night, as they were joined in consolation by 20-year-old wunderkind Ousmane Dembele, the man charged with succeeding Neymar in the Barcelona first team.

Dembele was sidelined for the match after he had unfortunately been ruled out for three and a half months with a hamstring injury following Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Getafe last weekend.

The French international may have been gone from the Barcelona first team, but he was not forgotten, as the Barcelona players took it upon themselves to sport t-shirts with the words ‘Courage Ousmane’ printed across the front, as the players offered their unified support to their newly injured teammate.

It takes some courage to do what  Ousmane Dembele did, move to Barcelona and succeed the world’s third best player and face the mountainous scrutiny that accompanies that challenge, but it takes a lot more courage to pay tribute to an injured teammate just a month after you make a similar gesture to the victims of the La Rambla terror attacks. Footballs over brains.

When Barcelona kicked off their league campaign against Real Betis last month with no names printed on the back of the player’s jerseys, but rather the name of the city, it was an immensely powerful gesture.

The people of Barcelona needed their team to show that they were more than just a football club that night, they needed the club to show that it could act as the emotional embodiment of a city, a beacon of solidarity that could bring people together and offer citizens a temporary release from days of grieving and mourning.

Dembele did not warrant the same token of support. If we’ve reached a point in society where hamstring injuries are being shown the same level of support by football clubs as victims of terror, we’ve gone too far.

Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy wear shirts in support of injured team mate Ilkay Gundogan

This year alone Manchester United players wore warm-up shirts with the names of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo printed on their backs, after both players suffered respective ACL tears, while Manchester City players wore jerseys bearing Ilkay Gundogan’s name on the front after he suffered the same injury, only for the club to be quickly reminded by the German international that he had not died.

One of the great things about football and sport is that it can be used as a vehicle to promote issues that are bigger than both football and sport.

Some of the most iconic moments in sport often have nothing to do with winning championships or lifting trophies.

Leinster wearing red shirts with the number eight on the back as a mark of respect for the life of former Munster captain Anthony Foley.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and several other high profile NBA players wearing black shirts with the words ‘I can’t breathe’ printed on the front following the death of Eric Garner.

Bray Wanderers and Derry City players during a minute's applause in honour of Ryan McBride before the match between Derry City and Bray Wanderers at Maginn Park in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Derry City players wearing t-shirts in honour of captain Ryan McBride after he tragically passed away at the age of 27.

When you wear shirts honouring injured players, as opposed to those who have passed, you trivialise the dead. Consciously or subconsciously, whether you intend to or not, you rationalise injury on the same level as death.

Tributes in sport are powerful because they are such a rare deviation from the norm.

They allow players, families, supporters and people to grieve and mourn together, to celebrate life or to reflect on injustice. To find solace in hardship

When you make visible statements on matters of much less importance you can diminish that power, disrespect its influence.

Sport can be trivial in the larger scheme of life but its power is not. It’s a pity that some of football’s most powerful clubs often fail to spot the difference.

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