Tuesday 24 April 2018

Model musings lift the veil on truth behind team sports

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

After witnessing her husband's team lose the Super Bowl last weekend, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, wife of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, was heckled by opposition supporters as she left the ground. She did not respond directly to them, but defended her husband to a friend standing next to her in what she thought was a private conversation. Little did she realise the outrage that would follow, as her comments were recorded and later posted on the internet.

You would be wrong to assume the criticism centred on the New York Giants' fans for heckling the wife of an opponent or on those who post private conversations on the web. Gisele was vilified for the manner in which she defended her husband. She was heard saying, "My husband cannot fucking throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can't believe they dropped the ball so many times."

There are many who buy into the notion that all players believe that winning and losing is a team game. That whatever the contribution of individuals, the result is achieved as a group. They cling to these principles in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. Gisele infuriated these people last week.

There are others. These are the people who can tell when a player is underperforming and aren't afraid to point it out. They know victories and defeats are often brought about by the contribution of the same small few. They understand how dressing rooms operate and players think. They are aware of the rivalries, the disputes, the egos and the cliques that can exist in every squad at any time. Marketing slogans and insincere platitudes in post-match interviews are of no interest to these people.

Gisele is one of those and she was right in what she said. She was criticised for breaking the spurious dressing room code of never speaking ill of team-mates in public (players' partners are supposedly gagged by this too), but I'm sure her views were shared by most Patriots fans, their coach and probably by Brady himself. If that was the case, which I'm sure it was given the performance of some of his team-mates, her offence was in saying what she said rather than thinking what she thought. But there was a lot more to this story than just that.

In professional sport, the partners of players should be seen and not heard, a view reflected in the midweek comments of Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. He later apologised for his "she just needs to continue to stay cute and shut up" remark, but the sentiment is one that also prevails in professional football in the UK.

I know two players whose contract negotiations are conducted by their wives, and I know of the reaction within the club when this was known. It was greeted with great amusement in the dressing room, while club officials privately mocked them. They were pitied for having to deal with such women every day. The women were immediately seen as troublemakers and their behaviour inappropriate. It shouldn't have been their role.

Gisele has been referred to as Yoko Ono many times in some sections of the Boston media, presumably threatened by the influence she may have on her husband. Independent thinkers are seen as negative influences on players whose commitment should be solely focused on the team. Agents are regularly portrayed as troublesome advisors who affect the harmony of a squad, but it's a little trickier to be as openly critical of players' partners.

Gisele's remarks may have offended those who buy into the bullshit about the sanctity of a dressing room or the bond among team-mates, but her comments were a great deal closer to the truth than anything they may believe. Had she not been a supermodel this may not have been so widely reported, but the general reaction revealed a great deal.

Not one person refuted her conclusions on the outcome of the game, but comments of this nature are unwelcome from those whose role should remain merely supportive. Advice, insight and guidance should come from the dressing room. All other sources are seen as a threat, particularly ones whose only interest is that of the player.

I don't believe people look to supermodels for analysis of sporting events, but the public outrage at Gisele's observations reflects a deeper fear. Clubs seek to control their players while fans like to believe the fantasy. What is Gisele saying to her husband behind closed doors? And what if he agrees with her? Gisele's comments gave people a glimpse at the truth about team sports and nobody could handle it.


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