Last week I saw something shocking, and unfortunately, something I don’t see enough in professional sports. I saw Wayne Rooney in jeans and a t-shirt mingling with fans while presenting the FIFA World Cup.
He took photos with the trophy and fans, and even allowed a lucky winner to sit on a couch and play video games with him for five minutes. It was all as if Rooney were just a regular person – an Average Joe like you or me.
You see I come from a land where corporations rule. American athletes get caught up in their team and sponsor image, and they forget their job is supposed to be fun. Very rarely will you see an American athlete dressed in anything other than his uniform or a suit and tie. And unless they are being paid for it, an athlete never acts like a person, and always like a businessman.
Athletes have been put on a pedestal by fans and owners alike, making them above and beyond the public reach. Back in the States if a video game contestant were to be sitting next to Rooney on a couch it would have cost him $100, and there would be two security guards on either side of him. I understand that making a distinction between athlete and businessperson is hard.
Sport is a business, and a very successful business at that. Athletes need to act responsibly, and look professional since they are an investment. It wasn’t always like that though. I hear stories about how my great uncle used to fix boilers with Brooklyn Dodger legend Gil Hodges. Hodges didn’t repair boilers for fun; it was his second job during the off-season.
High profile baseball players used to take the time to sign autographs during MLB Spring Training. Now you would be lucky to have a bench player say hello to you during Spring Training. Here I don’t see that pressure.
Maybe I haven’t been exposed to it long enough, but I don’t see UK athletes as slaves to their sponsors the way American athletes are. I see UK athletes in regular clothes being regular people, enjoying the sports they play.
I know Rooney was at the FIFA World Cup unveiling through the sponsorship of Coca-Cola, a main sponsor of the World Cup. However, when it came down to it, he talked about his life. He spoke about his family and how hard being a father is, and even threw in a couple of dirty diaper jokes in the process. He actually seemed like a person, not an athlete.