Comment: to punish Rio Ferdinand for being a ‘role model’ is absurd

in Daily Telegraph

Cultured centre-half. Six-time league winner. One-time world’s most expensive defender. European Champion. England captain. Harvey Nicks shopper. Television prankster. Drugs test-misser. Drink-driver. Father. Movie producer. Rapper.
Rio Ferdinand has been many things, some of them good, some of them bad. Some of them – introducing the idea of “merking” to a wider audience, maybe – inexcusable. It feels like he has packed in enough for 10 lives in his time in the public eye, although it has only been 18 years since we first saw him for West Ham United: so classy on the ball, a wonderful mover and reader of the game, right up until the point where he would make a calamitous error of concentration.
Growing up as a defender in the days when dinosaurs still walked the central defence, he was that most un-English of creatures: a centre-half who could kick not only an opposing forward, but the football. To a team-mate and everything. It was no wonder that he became such a star turn.
His highly unusual on-pitch blend of apparently effortless composure and occasional brainless aberrations, it turned out, was to be mirrored in his public life off the field. He has been at once an inspiring and utterly maddening figure, given to acts of real leadership and moral courage and yet also to moments of petty stupidity. There’s a word for that: human.
It is very unfair that he has been treated more harshly by the FA Commission because (they say) “he is, without doubt, a role model for many young people. His responsibility is therefore that much greater.”
The term “a role model” is one of the most misguided and unjust in sport. For one, who are the FA regulatory commission to say what this amorphous and unidentified group of “young people” think? How would they know?
Secondly, maybe these unknown young people think Rio’s offence – sticking up for himself on social media when some random abused him out of the blue – was exactly the sort of thing one should do. Why should a footballer, anyone, have to hold their tongue when a stranger gets in touch to have a pop? Twenty-five grand and a three-match ban? Come off it.
Thirdly, the term role model has become a lazy cliché, only ever used in the negative, by the Instant Outrage brigade. It’s a catch-all way of attacking anybody in the public eye who behaves in the exact same way most of us who enjoy the luxury of obscurity would do.
The idea that there are tearful boys and girls ripping their Rio Ferdinand posters off the bedroom wall on hearing that their former moral compass snapped back at some nobody online is laughable.
“Why, Rio? Why? We looked up to you. How could you do this?” Working class people who have shown themselves to have ambitions outside of their pigeonhole or who want to improve themselves seem especially popular targets to hit with this role model stick.
If you want to look up to Ferdinand, look at the way he shepherds a one-footed dangerman onto his weaker foot, how he marks at a corner, how he steps out of defence.
To pick someone in the public eye – in any field, but especially a sportsperson who carries out his job under huge pressure and scrutiny – as some sort of moral example is doomed to fail. If you’re a parent and you want Ferdinand to set an example to your kids for you, then you’re not being fair on him, and you’re not doing your job properly.

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