Wednesday 22 November 2017

Off the Ball: Silence speaks volumes for priorities of players

Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney

Joe Malloy

You'll have seen Wayne Rooney speak up last week. No, not about having a drink at a wedding; the other thing. The thing footballers have generally steered clear of.

Rooney, an NSPCC ambassador, said of the sexual abuse scandal engulfing British football: "It's awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love. Andy (Woodward) has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC's new football helpline."

Rooney was most likely asked to comment and guided on the message, but he said something.

Kevin Kilbane, was at a Premier League match last weekend. He chatted with a former player who knows Steve Walters, a victim of Barry Bennell. It seems the victims have been heartened by the response of the media and PFA, but struck by the silence of former and current players.

Public messages of support have been in short supply. Rooney aside, there has been nothing from current senior English players. Not a supportive tweet or public comment.

Michael Carrick last tweeted about an interior design company this week. Rio Ferdinand supported Usain Bolt with his new film. Jordan Henderson loves adidas and the fans. Gary Neville was outraged over the Rooney wedding reporting. But the Bennell victims? Silence all round.

Meanwhile, the Premier League has just supported an LGBT Rainbow weekend. Several clubs flew rainbow flags behind their crests at grounds or on social media, team captains had rainbow armbands, referees wore rainbow laces and players were invited to do the same.

The Premier League, home no doubt to several gay players, still awaits its first openly gay player. Mercifully, unlike the poppy, the rainbow laces were genuinely optional and several high-profile players laced up - notably Jamie Vardy and Jermaine Defoe. It's hard to say how many exactly. Plenty have boots with no laces. The majority didn't.

Maybe it's not a big deal. But maybe we should hope for better. We can presume, as in society, a proportion of players are homophobic. We can also presume a sizeable proportion just weren't bothered, that a PFA representative dropped off the laces and was quickly ignored.

We can unfairly expect too much of our younger sports people. They excel at one specific aspect of life, and therefore we presume an authority in other spheres, when often the opposite is the case. But we can also give them a free pass.

These are not complicated stories or issues. Nor, crucially, do they require big action. It's been a really disappointing week across the game, one which feeds into all the very worst footballer clichés.

Irish Independent

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