I watched some of the Super Bowl yesterday, still reflecting on the difference between British and American footballers in the wake of John Terry’s spectacular PR meltdown last week.
I think I’ve now spotted the one major difference between the two breeds of footballer on either side of the Atlantic: the British footballer, at the height of his game and money-earning potential, tends to be a rock-em-sock-em hedonist, in it only for the lifestyle, the thrill, the women, the ability to be so rich they can get away with it. American footballers, on the other hand, tend to be do-gooders. Most importantly, they are encouraged to be so.
Take the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for example; every year an American footballer is named Man of the Year for his charitable and voluntary work outside football. The winner’s prize, apart from the honour, is a $25,000 donation by the committee to the footballer’s favourite charity. All 31 runners-up can nominate a charity, each of whom will be given $1000. The PR value is enormous, in that it allows the public to sympathise with very highly paid sports personalities.
British footballers, bereft of any encouragement to be public spirited, tend not to appear at all charitable. The only example of a charitable player that springs to mind immediately is Niall Quinn, who used his testimonial match, on retiring from playing football at Sunderland, to raise over £1 million for charity, an act so surprising that it won him several awards, including an honorary MBE. Most lower rung footballers use such games to line their pockets against retirement. The higher paid they are, the less likely they are to be seen giving to anyone but their immediate circle.
I’d suggest that it is high time the FA consider the American awards-for-charitable-work PR model for British football, as the ongoing culture amongst players of wealth without responsibility, of sleaze and selfishness, is quite capable of killing the sport entirely in the eyes of the British public.