Let’s just clear the air and say that everyone makes mistakes. You, me, Jose Mourinho 1, the woman sitting next to you on the bus on the way home, the man you passed and thought looked vaguely familiar but then you realized that he just had one of those faces.
All of us.
Some mistakes are, of course, slightly more severe than others. Like drunk driving, or tax fraud, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, or rape. But we’re all only young once, boys will invariably remain boys, we’re too talented to let something like this stifle us, it takes a few broken eggs to make an omelet, and dear god I think I’ve finally run out of clichés here.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired all the time these days. I really don’t have the time or energy to keep engaging with the apologists who come crawling out of their politically incorrect lairs any time a footballer “makes a mistake.” I don’t want to have yet another infuriating discussion about something that shouldn’t even warrant a debate, or defend my right to call sportspeople out on their inability to follow laws or engage in basic human decency.
So I propose that any time someone tries to wave aside bigotry or actual criminal activity and defend the footballers who seem to get their kicks from one or the other2, let’s instead defend their real mistakes.
Take Roberto Baggio. One of the greatest players Italy has ever seen, and known for his incredible playmaking abilities, Baggio once sported one of the worst mullets3 in football. A mistake, for sure, but definitely one we should all consider forgiving in light of his ludicrously talented footwork.
Or Ronaldo. I grew up watching him play, and was convinced that no one else could bring the game to life the way he did. Ronaldo’s performance in the 2002 World Cup still sends thrills down my spine, but more sinisterly, so does his haircut from the tournament. But our heroes all have their flaws, and we must be able to live with the bad as well as the good4.
Sometimes, of course, it’s just a question of crossed wires. Can we really comment on Joe Cole’s delicately curving tendril of hot pink without knowing what he was going through at the time? No, we cannot. And trying to impose our tonsorial decisions on Freddie Ljungberg attempting to get in touch with his inner sea slug is simply political correctness gone mad5.
Even the greats of our time6 fall from their pedestals. Lionel Messi’s bleached blond head may look like he had gone to a vindictive hairdresser who really just likes Wales, but, I hear you say, we must be willing to look past whatever he did to wrong his local barber. And we could recoil in horror at whatever happened to Cristiano Ronaldo in the early 2000s, but he had to live with his mistakes just as much as the rest of us.
Footballers are people, too. To err is human and to forgive mistakes, the duty of every fan. So I’m happy to wave my hand and absolve all the terrible things footballers have done while their common sense was on holiday. But let’s stop trivializing everything from bigoted behaviour to unconscionable actions by treating them like they’re as easy to move past.
1 Some of us, of course, make more mistakes than others.
2 Or both! I don’t want to limit their options.
3 This may actually surpass traditional mullet-dom and begin to approximate medium-sized woodland creature.
4 Quick note: magazines, blogs, and newspapers that compile lists of worst haircuts in football seem to place some kind of contractual requirement on their writers to use slurs as much as possible. I hope this satisfies my quota.
5 I’m as surprised as you that it took me so long to whip that one out.
6 i.e.: now.