Since their elevation to the position of outrageously expensive and revered assets, the interpretation of rules has become increasingly pliant with regard to footballers.
The mild discomfort many felt when Luis Suarez was ushered back into the Liverpool first team having sampled an opponent’s shoulder has now been eclipsed by the utter disbelief that Adam Johnson was allowed to continue playing his sport, after having admitted to sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl.
However, whatever parallels you may choose to draw between the Luis Suarez case and Adam Johnson’s, the latter is, without doubt, the vastly more unnerving of the two.
Obviously, Johnson’s case takes this dubious honour given that the crime is immeasurably more heinous and toxic, but it also highlights a much greater problem with the atmosphere that surrounds the footballing community.
Such things make it incredibly easy to demonise football and footballers, painting them as arch-corruptors of impressionable children. With every instance of them falling short of expectations in a societally-assigned position as role-models, we can add a string to the bow of those decrying the sport as an institution.
As a fan of the sport, I grow increasingly tired of hearing about just how toxic football is and how footballers and other members of the community set an awful, abhorrent example to anyone who follows it, just as I grow weary of hearing the latest scandal involving someone who I thought was a semi-respectable human being.
Aelfwynn Sampson, the lead detective in the investigation surrounding the Johnson case, said that Johnson took advantage of his position as a “local hero”. Unfortunately, as aforementioned, the problem is a much larger one.
Footballers are axiomatically celebrities, thus they are elevated by the general public. It is the sanctity of celebrity created by this elevation that makes revelations about crimes and misdemeanours perpetually shocking, despite appearing in most realms of modern society – politics, sport and entertainment to name only a few sectors.
Where the problem may lie is, in the determination to preserve this sanctity, powerful people are more than willing to make indefensible and entirely questionable compromises.
We have seen such an example in Johnson’s case, where Sunderland Football Club’s chief executive Margaret Byrne allowed Johnson to continue playing for the team despite having irrefutable proof of his crime, rather than reporting him as we would expect that she would, were the perpetrator anyone else.
It is believed that Byrne – a former criminal lawyer, fans of irony may be interested to know – has fled the country, such is the extensive and vehement backlash towards her gross mishandling of what is a seemingly straightforward situation.
The shocking investigations into other celebrities who have in the last few years been accused of similar crimes, the most obvious being the extensively reported Rolf Harris or Jimmy Savile, show a similar pattern. I remain perplexed as to why, but what I am most amazed by is why these sorts of revelations continue to surprise and astound us.
Now, I have chosen my words carefully. What is happening is shocking, but the fact that it is happening to, and involves, those who are directly in the public eye is not surprising considering that it does also happen among “normal” people.
As the everyday viewing public, we have to remember that, if you strip away any athletic ability, sportspeople are just people, susceptible to the same – admittedly herculean – lapses in judgement as someone who can’t kick a football with astounding accuracy and power.
They remain flawed, despite their talent. Often we take their expertise at face value, and choose to ignore their more human errors. It is easier to celebrate their prowess than it is to consider their mistakes with objectivity. What they are doing is shocking, but it is not surprising.