In what has quickly turned into a media battle between accomplished Three Lions striker, Wayne Rooney, and a few key media organisations, most notably The Sun, Rooney has been lambasted for photos of him appearing drunk at a wedding.
It all started when The Sun published an exclusive story on 20 November of Rooney’s ‘boozy bender’ the night after England beat Scotland 3-0. According to eyewitnesses they interviewed, Rooney stayed at a hotel bar after his teammates had left and continued to drink until being invited to a private wedding.
This comes in the midst of a number of discussions about professionalism in sport following comments made by German striker, Thomas Muller, about their victory over San Marino. Muller suggested that playing San Marino was not worth the time or risk of injury that it entailed.
However, The Sun’s article about Rooney takes a completely different tone. Questioning the responsibility of the influential player, reporters Nick Parker and Jake Ryan focus on petty details of Rooney’s night, publishing comments from viewers about the striker looking ‘older in person’ and speculations that he was seeking attention by wearing his England jersey.
The click-bait headline, starting with the quote: “He was s**t faced”, promised scandal and delivered, focusing on the most embarrassing details and amounting to little more than a personal attack. With no further details, the article simply quoted ‘a source’ who claimed, “his powers have been on the wane the last couple of years”, going so far as to link this vague criticism to Rooney’s alcohol consumption. The Sun published a similar article the same day about two of Rooney’s teammates traveling to a club to watch dancers.
There are problematic aspects of Rooney’s behaviour. For one, he was wearing his England jersey, making him easily identifiable and associating himself with his team. Tobacco sports sponsorship was banned in 2005 and the organisation, Alcohol Focus Scotland seeks to do the same with alcohol, arguing on their website that “alcohol and sport don’t mix”. They specifically problematise the “link between their brand and our sporting hero” established by advertisements “on a deep, emotional level”.
They go on to state that there is evidence that exposure to alcohol advertising leads children to drink at a younger age. A similar association could be formed between drinking in general and a hero such as Rooney, more closely linked to his accomplishments when he exhibits this behaviour while dressed for a match.
However, more problematic than Rooney’s behaviour is The Sun’s coverage of it. Shortly after their first article, a second article of Rooney was published featuring only a small amount of context explaining the content of a new picture that came in showing Rooney, apparently intoxicated, on a couch.
When Rooney later apologised, he specified that he would like to “further extend that apology to any young fans who have seen these pictures”. He hit the nail on the head. The issue that could make this a problem for society is the propagation of these pictures that could lead children to making these harmful associations.
FreshAir Sport presenter, Conor Matchett, commented to The Student: “As captain of England I think he’s got a responsibility to show himself up as a role model […] however, I can understand why people need a break.”
A break is the last thing Rooney got from the media. After apologising, the attention continued with a dissection of the night. Fed up, the captain stated: “It shows a lack of respect. I think enough is enough.” While appearing in England attire for a night out 48 hours before playing Spain was not entirely responsible, the media has undoubtedly made it worse. Being a role model should not mean being perfect; rather, doing things worth emulating.
It is the media’s job to report on the positive side of the sport or to expose ethical breaches to uphold standards. In this instance, there was no moral condemnation, only petty shaming.
Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland