Feb 2, 2010, 2:30 PM EDT
I was going to try and dig in to this whole John Terry sex scandal mess today, but then I realized that I’m not British, no matter how pasty I get from hours indoors at the computer. For this we need a real Brit, and luckily I’ve found one. James T. is the founding editor of the soccer bog Unprofessional Foul, who has moved here from England, where soccer is the stuff of legends. If he can’t get to the bottom of this, no one can. I yield my remaining time in this post to him.
By James T.
The English have always been good at moral outrage, and the recent John Terry hysteria brought all of those messy feelings and moralistic op/ed columnists to the forefront in glorious fashion. The nation had cause to debate that most vital component of the whole scandal: its implications on the captaincy of the national soccer team.
In England, captains are lionized as much as politicians the world over. We expect from them a certain moral quality and fiber that we deem necessary for the job itself, and will willingly overlook the strength of their resume and qualifications; above all, a moral code akin to Richard the Lionheart, able to lead the masses into battle with a stiff upper lip, stoic expression, and fearless spirit (we’ll overlook that Richard I, our Lionheart of lore, killed an awful lot of Jews and led a religious crusade that was, in retrospect, woefully misguided) is the easiest means to determine whether someone is right for the job. Conveniently, it’s also the shallowest way to pick your leaders, but we don’t like to think too hard about issues. Just tell me whether the guy is a Christian father of two with a trophy wife, white picket fence, and all will be fine.
It’s a special brand of nobility also expected from the English monarchy, an institution still revered and respected despite being toothless in the modern era. When Prince Charles revealed himself to be an ordinary, lusty man seeking love outside his marriage, public pressure led him to step out of line for the crown that was set to be his.
Then, we get back to the English national soccer team, an institution amusingly as irrelevant in international soccer as the monarchy is in international affairs. Our captains of yesteryear have been fearless, upstanding, leaders (Bobby Moore, Terry Butcher, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer were all squeaky-clean talismans), and while John Terry has stumbled before, showing glimpses of his shady, East London upbringing — parking in handicapped spaces, pissing on a nightclub dance floor, and accepting money for tours of his team’s facilities — his sexual escapades brought a new level of outrage. Blame our complicated sexual politics: any kink goes provided it’s behind closed doors, so for the England captain to be caught red-handed brought fresh shame.
Cue op/ed writers, dividing neatly along party lines, most of whom forgot that we’re dealing with the most fallible sub-section of professions, the highly-paid athlete.
Lefty newspaper The Guardian took an obvious response: soccer players are flawed, and as long as they still play well, what’s the harm? A couple of days later, being the open-minded liberals they are, their website welcomed an opposing viewpoint that once again connected leadership and morality as being necessary bedmates, and that captains should be there to cleanly lead the flawed masses through the mire.
The upper-class newspapers joined forces with their conservative, old-fashioned tabloid rivals to embrace that moral element of being a leader or an England captain. Favored newspaper for rich people, The Times, touched upon the embarrassment he had brought upon the hallowed soccer institutions — embarrassment and nobility dovetail nicely; as in the army or public service, if you bring shame, you lose your stripes. Middle-class/conservative tabloid The Daily Mail adopted a similar outrage — captains should lead by “example” — while glossy low-brow rag the Mirror thought he should show his worth as a true leader and resign, spouting some age-old mess about team sports and team spirit as his motivation. So their logic goes, if he can cheat on a teammate with such ease (forget that it takes two to tango), he can’t possibly be trusted to lead the team, presumably lest he skip post-game press conferences to enjoy a steamy romp in the car park with another player’s WAG. After all, we’re led to believe, it’s just John Terry. It’s what he does.
All of this noise serves as a more-than-adequate substitute for soap opera and daytime talk shows. It’s worth noting that the Tiger Woods scandal came and went from the English media with a passing glance (one paper dismissed his cheating as being “not interesting” and something he did “just like millions of other apparently happily married men, every day), yet every day is filled with more stories about Terry’s depravity, infidelity, and reprehensible behavior.
This is England in a nutshell. Soccer means more to us than anything, so to see some philanderer soil the St. George’s Cross has pundits and writers erupting in paroxysms of outrage. Ray Lewis can kill two people (allegedly) and still lead a team to the Super Bowl, but we spend our days examining Terry’s consensual sex between adults like it’s the Zapruder footage of the grassy knoll.
More than anything, it gives us a built-in excuse for when we inevitably lose on penalties. If Terry remains captain, defeat is his fault. If he’s stripped, then the fallout becomes the fault. Thus, the debate rages on.
James T is the Founder and Editor of Unprofessional Foul, where he frustrates the world daily with his opinions on soccer. He works in publishing, and, having moved from England in the late 90s, managed to settle in Amish Country, PA. Excuse the incongruity.
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