TThe results of a YouGov survey of the “most liked” people on Earth were released this week. Topping the list of men is Barack Obama, the first black American president (in the world’s most admired, the sexes are timidly separated). In second place comes Bill Gates, a donor of nearly $50 billion to charitable causes. But the real big mover (of course) is Cristiano Ronaldo, who ends 2021 breathing through the neck of genocidal party dictator Xi Jinping for the title of the most admired third man on the planet.
To the cynic, this may seem like a strange company. Beneath Ronaldo on the global like list are activists, philanthropists, highly visible despots and reckless messengers of God’s word on earth.
In the meantime, Ronaldo has really good muscular definition. The ratio of his goals to games is first rate. He looks like a piece of live-pop performance art called Sport Human No 3 or, depending on your perspective, like an exceptionally handsome robotic ice cream seller from 2091. He obviously smells really nice. What do you not like?
But the only value of this sort of thing in reality is to illustrate a familiar confusion of scale, footballers have long been at the polar opposites of this spectrum: gods and monsters, creeds and princes, which are revered versus moral panic factors. Ronaldo as the world’s fourth most admired man looks like a reflection of another wave of public sentiment this week that’s more serious, but rooted in the same basic category of confusion.
It is, of course, related to Covid-19. As injuries proliferated and the roster of matches faded, the idea took hold that men’s professional soccer players play vaccinations fast and fast. We hear football players are late in getting a jab. Footballers have let us down, falling prey to conspiracy theory, ignorance, and their own extraordinary concepts.
This has become an accepted fact, fuel for a resounding opinion piece, an appeal on social media, for insinuations about the hive-mind follies of wealthy working-class men. Knockout status should be published to football players, who have not been disproportionately vaccinated. Footballers, who have not been disproportionately vaccinated, should be deprived of their salaries when they miss matches. Football players, who are disproportionately unvaccinated, must be forced to pay the expenses of those who lose due to cancellation.
Which is fine. Except for one simple fact that undermines all of this. Football players are not disproportionately vaccinated. It can look like this if you wear it correctly. But in any reasonable context, this is not actually true.
The truth is that 68% of footballers have been vaccinated twice up to the latest statistics including the Premier League. Look a little deeper and guess what? These numbers are the same for men aged 20-30 in the UK population as a whole. The bottom line: Footballers are not laggards, nor are they a special case. It simply reflects the reality of everyone else out there. You could probably say that footballers do a better job than the general public. In the non-football world, a quarter of people in that age group are obese. Just under a fifth will have a pre-existing health problem. Football players are the fittest people in the country. The most selfish urges to get an injection are rolled back.
In light of this, achieving vaccination on a par with peers across the country is a decent effort. It’s definitely not a reason to squeak the hand, or a round of stopping these monsters – now pseudo-horror. So where did it come from? How easy is this for a basic fact – footballers: just like the others – is thrown out in the name of a performance reprimand?
As a footnote, it is of course necessary at such times that you show your ideological papers. Why does this guy screw up a perfectly good split argument? What is his agenda? For what it’s worth, I’m totally pro-vaccine – pro-all medicine – because I don’t like dying of disease. squeeze me. I will swallow everything you have. But then I’ve spent 30 years drinking beer, smoking liquor, gargling with pasta pot dust, and clogging arteries with meat from steroid-fed animals. No matter the toxic air, the artificial mud, the microplastics in your bones, it’s just a little swipe of well-meaning diluted medicine that will make you sick, right?
So what do you take from all this? First, it might be a good idea to stop worshiping football players. The corollary of this familiar rage—football players as thugs, footballers as idiots, and footballers as grotesque manual laborers—is the tendency to scramble, squirm, and concoct on these people the rest of the time. This is not limited to football fans, but to a certain type of journalist whose work is essentially a series of emojis to applaud, tempted by the idea that talent, wealth, determination and a beautifully lit social media feed give a kind of cloud. An inner blessing in all issues from pandemic management to tax balance, to all the other things you believe in. It is a very modern type of idolatry. It will always lead to disappointment. Footballers: They’re just folk too.
Finally, football is good at telling us other things. Like taking an uncompromisingly polarized position on any issue is a bad idea.
Come to think of it, creating a cohesive subset of people called “footballers” (the only common trait: good at kicking the ball) is ridiculous in the first place.
Two things that seem certain. What this data tells us is that the footballer’s generation, people between the ages of 20 and 30, are a little fragmented and aloof, and hostage to disconcerting waves of information. And through it all, players have taken the risk to entertain us, pushing bodies to their absolute aerobic capacity during the global lung and heart emergency.
Does this seem reasonable? Is there any real understanding of the long-term risks? Not real! Perhaps it is something to admire – wisely and within limits.