There’s a bandwagon of faux-outrage, moral superiority and media hypocrisy about John Terry. The same papers that delight in telling sordid tales of bedtime shenanigans with some pretend to be outraged when it is others. What is it that makes John Terry different from Rebecca Loos? What is it that means the captain of the England football team should have higher moral standards than, say, previous manager Sven Goran Eriksonn (who had affairs with Ulrika Johnson and his secretary at the FA, Fariah Alam, who herself also had an affair with FA chief executive Mark Palios… just imagine the office party).
In some senses, it really doesn’t matter. It is just football. It is just a horny overpaid sports star having an affair with a French underwear model (for rude picture see here). Another day in the life of the rich, privileged, and slightly bored. On another level, it does matter. It matters because all the characters are human (even the ones that play for Chelsea); because the lady in question is the mother of his friend’s child; because so many people will be hurt and upset at the various betrayals; oh yes, and because Bridge and Terry were friends, and may end up as team mates in South Africa.
And it matters because people like John Terry are role models. Not just for the men who wear the no.26 shirt as a tribal statement because they crave a sense of belonging in a world devoid of heterosexual male community (ok, and they support Chelsea…), but to all the young footie fans who look up to these players as role models. Anyone who has played football with teenagers sees how they copy their idols – from attempting the Ronaldo step-over to the Beckham free-kick, the Gerrard 30-yarder to the Scholes ‘remonstrating-with-the-ref’ special. I was particularly good at the Crouch tumble (it would have been the robot except I never scored).
So, when a player plays fast and loose with their marriage, what message does that send? Does that cross the players mind? Does it make infidelity ok? Exploring the complexity of this is important for our kids, as they grow up with the temptation to idolise or demonise, depending on the colour of their shirt. Here are some thoughts of things to explore, though I am sure you have many to add…
1. We are all human; that is, we are all flawed – from the good guys (Giggs, Gerrard, Beckham…?) to the bad guys (Terry, Bellamy, Bowyer…?), no-one is either all good or all bad. Ferdinand is a mixture. Terry is a mixture. I am a mixture. John Terry has a reputation as a bad boy – tough on the pitch, parking his Bentley in a disabled bay off it. Rio Ferdinand has had his fair share of indiscretions and is currently serving a 4 match ban; but spends a lot of time and effort on his charitable foundation Live the Dream, based in his native Peckham. Why? Because he knows that as a working-class black man from Peckham, who has officially ‘made it’ by breaking the transfer record for a defender twice, playing for Man U and now captain of England, he is a role model. His actions are influential. He can make a difference.
Discussion point: Can flawed people be leaders? Why? Who did Jesus choose to be his apprentices? And then his leaders? Did they all turn out to be ok? Were they always friends? Which ones wanted to be Captain (can we sit at your right hand…)? What would he have done if Peter had had a bounce with the ex of one of the sons of Zebedee…?
2. The second key point is that betrayal hurts, who ever you are. Why do people betray others? Why do they betray their friends? And why does it matter? (I explored some of these theme in a previous post).
Discussion point: How was Jesus betrayed, and how did Jesus respond to that betrayal – by his family, by his home-town, his fellow Rabbis, by his disciples, by a kiss in the park, by Pilate…? How do adults respond to betrayal? How do young people respond to betrayal? How many families have been split apart by betrayal? How have we responded to betrayal, major or minor?
3. The third key point is the reality (and unpopularity) of consequences and punishments. For certain people personal indiscretions mean a job loss, or job change. Church leaders rarely survive an exposed affair with their job intact; neither do politicians. Footballers do, after some press attention and some terrace chanting (Ashley Cole springs to mind….). Do you mind if your delivery driver is having an affair? So does it matter if your football captain is? It does – because consciously or not, public figures are role models. Capello had to show that his regime is one of integrity and strength of character, and not just on the pitch. Didn’t he?
Discussion point: For us that can be translated as whole-life discipleship. We cannot separate what we do at school or work from what we do at home; what we do in public from what goes on in private. God sees it all. Everything. What difference would it make for all of us if our private indiscretions meant a demotion at work? Or if cheating on our girlfriend got us taken out of the school football team?
We cannot breach trust in one part of our life, and be considered trustworthy in another. Can we?
We want our football players to be perfect – scoring for the team and only playing at home, if you see what I mean. They will not be. What we should expect is honesty – not telling-tales-to-the-tabloids kind of honesty, but holding your hands up and saying sorry, admitting mistakes, on and off the pitch. Showing a bit of humanity never hurt anyone.
Showing a bit of grace gives them a chance to.