Stephen Halliday: Footballers deserve better than tired labelling of stupidity
It has been said that the human brain instinctively responds more readily to negative stereotypes.
Scottish professional footballers would certainly agree with that theory, one the majority of them are actually more than clever enough to get their heads around.
Not that you would think so if you bought into the lazy and pejorative narrative which has collectively surrounded our top-flight players as they have been given a verbal kicking by all and sundry in the aftermath of the Covid-19 protocol breaches by some of their number at Aberdeen and Celtic.
Of course, the eight Aberdeen players who decided a city centre night out was a good idea two Saturdays ago can have no complaints about the furore it caused or the hefty fines subsequently imposed upon them by chairman Dave Cormack.
And there is certainly no sympathy due to Celtic full-back Boli Bolingoli for his unfathomable trip to Spain which has currently placed the Scottish champions’ historic league title defence on ice.
But if the condemnation heaped upon Bolingoli and the errant Dons octet is understandable, the breathless rush to tar every Scottish footballer with the same brush is both irrational and, with the casual scattering of adjectives such as “stupid” and “selfish”, simply offensive.
Having been fortunate enough to inhabit a working environment with many of our leading players for the best part of four decades, this correspondent can happily testify to the intelligence, thoughtfulness and articulate nature of so many of them.
Yes, as is any other cross section of society, you will inevitably encounter some less appealing characters among them, those whose misdemeanours and sense of entitlement will inevitably attract attention and negative headlines. But they have always been, and still are, very much in the minority within Scottish football.
So Premiership players are entitled to take issue with the insulting portrayal of them which has been so widely disseminated over the past week or so.
It was especially wearisome, if wholly predictable, to see them used as a political football during the Scottish government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday as Nicola Sturgeon issued a threat to suspend football once again with her glib yellow and red card analogy.
Next to the First Minister was the high priest of Covid-19 guidelines, national clinical director Jason Leitch, who appeared to take great delight in declaring he “hadn’t missed” the Premiership managers and captains during his Zoom call with them the previous day. A man who has made sanctimony an art form during the pandemic, Leitch clearly revels in his new found status as a regular guest on national and local radio football shows.
But for all of the anguish and hand-wringing which has greeted the actions of Bolingoli and the Aberdeen players, now facing further sanctions from a Scottish FA disciplinary hearing later this month, more credit should be given to the responsible and sensible manner in which Premiership clubs and players have overwhelmingly dealt with the crisis.
Since coronavirus testing procedures began back on 29 June in preparation for a return to action, a total of 6,183 tests have been carried out on players and officials. Up until 9 August, the most recent update of those figures, there have been only four positive tests – just 0.06 percent.
In all probability, there are more positive tests to come, while it also feels inevitable that Bolingoli’s actions won’t be the last example of a Premiership player stepping out of line as Scottish football walks the tightrope of this uncertain 2020-21 campaign.
But if or when that happens, the urge to label those who play the game we love as stupid or selfish should be resisted. They deserve better.
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