25th of November 2020, was a sad day for the footballing world as one of the greats, Diego Maradona died at the age of 60 due to a heart attack. There was an enormous outpour of respect and sympathy for the Argentinian footballing legend. Many people took a moment to pay their respects to the man that has given them so much joy and memories to cherish. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest players to ever grace the earth, his achievements and mastery on the pitch are undeniable. His antics outside of the pitch on the other hand are questionable at best. The question remains would his behaviour garner the same amount of respect if he was an athlete in today’s world?
So what changed?
The modern-day footballer has evolved. They are no longer just athletes. They are high-profile, public figures that are constantly under the spotlight. This can be both a blessing and a curse. With the advent of social media, anyone can snap a picture and ruin a player’s reputation, and subsequently their career. Hence the need for the modern-day footballer to have a social media management team to make sure their online presence is portrayed in a positive light. This can take a toll on their private life. They don’t have the freedom to roam around like the regular joe. Depending on their fame they will most likely get recognized wherever they go.
A rather boring and incognito private life is a small price to pay for all the riches their career has offered them. They can use their platform to bring attention to issues they believe in and have a rare opportunity to bring people together for a cause. The modern-day athlete is no longer just an athlete. They have become some of the most pivotal and influential figures of our day and age.
What are some of the notable examples?
Colin Kaepernick‘s famous take the knee shed light on a very important topic, police brutality, and got the ball rolling on a much-needed conversation. He was a squad rotation player and never really was in the limelight for his athletic abilities. With his activism, he has now become one of the most recognizable faces of the sports world.
Marcus Rashford, a footballer for Manchester United, used his social media platform to write an open letter to the British government pleading with them to reverse their decision on the removal of free school meals for underprivileged children. His attempts were successful and the British government reinstated their free-meal policy. His efforts allowed underprivileged children to be fed.
These are just two examples from the long list of athletes that make it a priority to engage in social/political activism and philanthropic endeavours. Arguably, what athletes do outside of the pitch is more influential than what happens on the pitch. The modern-day sports stars are able to affect more change than modern-day politicians. So it begs the question “is a talent all that is required to be a modern-day athlete?”
Yousef A Bogis