After the German football team beat San Marino 8-0, striker Thomas Muller commented that he “didn’t see the point” of playing San Marino, going on to say that less successful teams (to put it nicely) “can only defend with tough tackling” and that this posed an unnecessary risk for more successful teams.
After this drew some negative attention, Bayern Munich’s chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, rather than retract or qualify Muller’s comments, remarked: “San Marino has got nothing to do with international football.” Others have supported them, proposing a qualifying tournament for smaller nations to prove their eligibility to compete against the more successful teams in the World Cup.
However, many are bothered by this, calling Muller’s comments disrespectful. Muller is not the only one who has been subject to this sort of off-the-clock criticism in recent years.
One of the most contested activities is touchdown celebrations in American Football. While many players defend it as within the spirit of the game, building on the energy they generated with the win, others characterise it as rubbing it in their opponents’ faces. Some of these dances and celebrations draw more attention than others. Marshawn Lynch, for example, was warned before the 2015 Super Bowl that if he continued to grab his crotch after scoring touchdowns, the Seattle Seahawks would be penalised 15 yards.
In most cases, activities take place outside the bounds of what athletic associations can regulate.
For example, Tiger Woods lost much of his acclaim and entered the world of notoriety after the scandal broke of him cheating on his wife with a number of mistresses. However, most cases of domestic problems do not result in such severe personal consequences. Running back Ray Rice was recorded assaulting his fiancée in a lift and was staunchly defended by the Baltimore Ravens staff, while Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse and continued to play for the Minnesota Vikings after it became public knowledge that he repeatedly whipped a child.
Randolph Childress, a particularly unique case in American basketball in 1995, broke the ankles of an opponent, ending his career, before waving in his direction and shooting a hoop. Glaring instances like this one in particular can be cringe-worthy when considered in the context of the children who idolise these players. How are we supposed to teach good sportsmanship and respect when the people they look to for inspiration demonstrate the opposite behaviour?
However, it is unclear how to address issues like these, particularly when they break no laws or rules. Should it be up to athletic associations to punish this as they threatened the Seahawks? Should it be up to the media to focus on the sports side of athletics, or should athletes be held to a higher standard than citizens?
From an American perspective, it seems as though many athletes are held to lower standards, retaining places as heroes and icons even after disrespecting women and becoming embroiled in scandal. However, in the case of Muller, San Marino were more than capable of defending themselves.
In a widely circulating 10-point letter, the San Marinese director of communications, who cheekily signs the letter, “your Alan”, addressed Muller’s inability to score and the money both countries made from the rights of the game; the San Marino portion of which is going towards building a football pitch in a remote village.
His last point is one that gives me hope, calling out Muller with the realisation that “even if you wear the most beautiful Adidas kits, underneath you’re always the ones that put white socks under their sandals.”
Perhaps, if we continue to criticise the athletes who serve as bad role models to children, holding them to the same standards of respect as we do each other, we will be able to destroy the façade of their stunning performances and beautiful Adidas kit to remind us that they do not have respect under their sandals, but instead, only white socks.
Image courtesy of Global Panorama