Sportsmen are role models – whether they like it or not

Kathy Sheridan: Decent men who have influence stand up for those who don’t

“A lucky boy will have role models who demonstrate that being sound is about more than blind loyalty to the pack/team/club; men whose public stature was earned on the pitch but is founded on values that bring honour to all their human interactions.” File photograph: Getty Images

“A lucky boy will have role models who demonstrate that being sound is about more than blind loyalty to the pack/team/club; men whose public stature was earned on the pitch but is founded on values that bring honour to all their human interactions.” File photograph: Getty Images

 

Scene 1: A busy, hip, expensive Irish restaurant where a private section has been reserved for a group of well-known sportsmen. The shots are hitting the spot. Soon the lads are downing bottles of spirits by the neck, roaming in packs through the public dining area, taking over tables reserved for waiting guests.

The floor manager warns they will have to order food or leave the tables. A player pats his pocket as if checking for cash, pulls out a condom, unwraps it and throws it at her. When another worker asks them to tone it down for the sake of young kids watching, she is told to, “calm down, sugar tits”. Someone has to be dispatched to the men’s toilets to mop up the waves of urine they’ve left on the floor. Star-struck diners who try to engage them in conversation are laughed at. The atmosphere becomes so lairy and aggressive that two workers walk off the floor.

Scene 2: A 17-year-old girl gets in a taxi with a well-known sportsman to go to a top hotel. Afterwards, she would claim she had consensual sex with that one man but that seven others burst into the room, five of whom raped her. No charges would be brought.

The point is that the vile notion of 'roasting' young girls or scenes of disgusting, entitled behaviour are not the preserve of a particular sport or background

What gave the case national notoriety was an interview with the 29-year-old “party organiser”. He boasted that he organised “roasting” parties where girls were “stuffed like a chicken”, shared around between several of them. It was his ninth “roasting”.

He, two Premiership footballers and another guy had all shared the 17-year-old, with her consent, he claimed. “No one was heavy with her, this was normal . . . It’s not unnatural for everyone in our crowd to have sex with a girl for 15 to 20 minutes and then get up and wonder what the other boys are doing.”

The scenes are not connected. The first took place a few years ago. The second is all of 15 years ago.

The point is that the vile notion of “roasting” young girls or scenes of disgusting, entitled behaviour are not the preserve of a particular sport or background. “I’d say three things about them,” said a witness to the restaurant scenes. “Number one, they didn’t care who saw them. Number two, they knew they were bulletproof. Number three, there were no older managers there to put manners on them.”

Isn’t it odd that a pack of privileged, adult males might need their own babysitters on a night out? What does that tell us about both enablement and entitlement ?

Starry-eyed girls

I’ve known some successful rugby players, seen them being mobbed by starry-eyed girls yet be still able to hang on to their essential decency and self-respect. I’ve also known some who were encouraged – by both men and women – to see themselves as helpless wee creatures in the face of all that adulation. Sure how could any man resist...?

But full-on female fandom is nothing new. Ask your mother about the screaming “spit on me, Dickie” vibe at dances 50 years ago. In the main, it’s just part of growing up, letting off harmless steam. If a girl is lucky, it will stay at that. But for the apologists, it feeds handily into the sly commentary about blurred messages and female culpability. Whose interest is served by that?

During sports scandals when the significance of sportsmen as role models is resurrected, apologists retort that they never signed up for that; sure they’re just young lads with a talent for kicking a ball

A lucky young girl will have people in her life to remind her that yes, she has choices but that love’s young dream is unlikely to emerge from a brutish, 15-minute hook-up.

A lucky boy will have role models who demonstrate that being sound is about more than blind loyalty to the pack/team/ club; men whose public stature was earned on the pitch but is founded on values that bring honour to all their human interactions. We could all name a few.

During sports scandals when the significance of sportsmen as role models is resurrected, apologists retort that they never signed up for that; sure they’re just young lads with a talent for kicking a ball. Young lads with movie-star lifestyles and cars the price of a house or maybe even free pints and the freedom of the parish? They are role models, like it or not.

Intimidated

Decent men who have influence stand up for those who don’t. Simple as that. Yet in the real-life scenes described above, where women were being abused, intimidated and humiliated, not one man shouted stop.

What would it take?

A new biography of Tiger Woods has a story about an associate who stood up to his bullish father Earl. Earl’s house style was pornography on a loop, sex toys stuffed in drawers, sexual favours performed on request and abuse directed at Tiger’s mother. The associate finally lost patience: “If I don’t speak up, my mother will rise up out of her grave and slap the shit out of me if I allow you to continue to verbally abuse your wife as you do in my presence.” Spurred by a possible haunting from his dead mother? Whatever it takes, lads.

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