Footballers get a bad rap. Most of the time it’s because they’re idiots who’ve failed to realise how interested the general public are in their off-pitch exploits, whether they be extra marital, propelled by substance abuse, raging hubris or any combination of the above. No one’s saying that being handed £40k a week at the age of eighteen is a recipe for a well balanced individual, but you have to wonder some times whether their competitive instinct extends to who can get the most coverage in the papers for being a pillock.
Of course, it’s only the bad stuff that makes the papers. No one was remotely interested in the exploits of the Leicester City development squad 2014/15 until a video of three of them engaging in sex acts and casual racism emerged on the internet. Mario Balotelli is rumoured to donate up to half his salary to charity, but post a link to that and your social media metamorphoses into the silent contemplative space that is Manuel Neuer’s penalty area. Post a picture of the bloke in a chicken hat and you’re suddenly as hot as his bathroom in the run up to Halloween.
They say we get the media we deserve, and if intelligent extra-terrestrial lifeforms landed in Great Britain today, they’d suspect sexual incontinence and upsetting trousers formed the competitive elements of the game, with the ball kicking bit as the unnecessary distraction.
Hence why I’m Resting my entire BitchFace Narrative on this interview with Abby Wambach. Wambach, whose decorations as a player require a spreadsheet, has created almost as many front page headlines as back. Her appearance, her sexuality, her DUI arrest and varying degrees of mouthiness have all been exploited by a media desperate to maximise page views and the revelations from her autobiography, Forward, have propelled her into the spotlight once again.
“Wambach’s abused alcohol! Drugs! What kind of a role model is she?”
I choose to look at it in a different way. Wambach may well have done drugs, alcohol, suffered personal problems, struggled with her sexuality, been called names and consistently denigrated for not looking like a ‘real woman’ and yet remains a two time Olympic gold medal winner, World Cup winner and highest scoring all time scorer for the USWNT. She chooses to emphasise how she has struggled with the same issues that we all do and responded to many of them in the same way we have; to blot them out, collapse in private or mask our pain with anger and lash out.
The bottom line is that none of us is perfect. For Wambach, the day to day reality of being a human huddled inside the shell of a tough, talented athlete was difficult to cope with but at the same time, taught her valuable lessons about identity. She speaks of a world that doesn’t care about sexuality, gender or religion and dismisses labels as ‘stupid’. She’s been through it all and that’s what she takes away from it.
Isn’t that what a role model is? Someone who’s tried something, made horrific mistakes and then shares their story? Not in the hope that we’ll blindly follow in their footsteps, but with our eyes open, so we can see the pitfalls on the path and avoid them.
Being different is tough, and to a greater or lesser degree, I can confidently say that most of you reading this are different to the point where you’ve attracted criticism, derision, humiliation and perhaps even persecution. Just because it’s not in the press doesn’t mean it’s less painful.
But you know what? Wambach’s been there, done that and worn the gold medal. Take the confidence she’s offering to you and use it to do something great.
Be defined by who you are, not what the haters say.