“Bad boys” with image problems are part of a world-wide trend in modern sport in the 21st century. English football captain David Beckham when he is not being accused of marital infidelities is in the news for taking out legal actions against his tattooists for breaching copyright over the 13 tattoo designs that adorn his body. Australian cricketer Shane Warne has also shared the bad boy limelight along with Beckham with his habitual predatory sex-text messaging to adoring and some less adoring fans.
The ultimate bad boy Diego Maradonna a gun-toting cocaine addict and former world cup champion is making a comeback as TV host in his native Argentina. Even convicted rapist and all time renegade, former heavy weight champion Mike Tyson, has in a moment of profound reflection, confessed he wasted a lot of time. Given the extraordinary level of public forgiveness and amnesia extended to the conduct of sporting stars like O.J. Simpson, Tyson is probably on a winner.
In Australia the extraordinary serial antics of tennis player Lleyton Hewitt suggest Australians are not exempt for this syndrome either. The durability of this bad boy attitude is also evident in the way swimming star Ian Thorpe with his “good boy” image is often unjustifiably derided as not a “real man” because he doesn’t carry on with public petulant and violent outbursts. He may do that in private, as many people do, but he doesn’t inflict himself in the same way as some other sports stars who are clearly self-centred and self-obsessed walking disaster zones (even if some of them do it for Australia).
Maybe this is a “wowser” and censorious approach to “good old boys” having a good time, however even some of the sports writers are starting to have second thoughts about the conduct of the “ male sporting celebrity”. Writing in USA Today on August 19, 2005, sportswriter Robert Lipyste pulls no punches on the contemporary football sports star telling us he think of them as “large as Rottweillers, Dobermans - who occasionally turn violent on the street”. He calls this his “athletes-as-pet theory” where coaches suppress their more base instincts. He suggests that coaches are successful not for winning but for “keeping headstrong, difficult and somewhat large creatures in line”.
After the rampage in a night club of some Australian Rugby players in South Africa on the eve of a test match and Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds being dropped for turning up drunk to an international game, the “pet theory” suggests that the high profile Australian coaches might need to look more closely at the Lipsyte ideas and get the dog leashes out for their players.
The notion of the contemporary male sports star seems to span the spectrum between “bad boy” and a supreme “god figure”. The prime example of the latter is former Olympic 1,500 meters track champion Sebastian Coe, who is enjoying the eternal gratitude of citizens of London for his successful leadership of the London Olympic bid for the 2012 games.
Coe is the reverse of the abrasive and undisciplined sporting star evident in the Tysons, the Hewitts and the Maradonnas. These “god figures” are more composed and reserved like Olympic champion athlete Herb Eliott, a former Shell executive, David Kirk former All Black Captain, as well as Bob Cowper a former test cricketer, all of whom made the transition into the world of global business from international sport. These are some of the well-connected sports people that make it into the boardroom and politics.
In a recent glossy airline magazine I read that other former sporting figures on the top of the business game attribute their success to personal attributes such as being “goal oriented”, disciplined and focused, as well as being able to “visualize success”. Zealots who suggest that sports success will translate to instant success tend to neglect the fact that boxing champions rarely make it into the elite board room. This is generally reserved for the networks of well connected rugby stars, yachting champions and motor sport icons. The reality is that the class relations of professional sports doesn’t compensate for the sorting processes of modern capitalism.
Indeed the class arrangements for sport ensure that professional sports people are part of the new cultural industries of mass-produced television sport. Professional sports men have become the “proletariat” of the cable networks recruited to fill the TV screens with non-stop class sports 24 hours by 7 days a week.
There is a paradoxical relationship between the bad boys and the new corporate global sports owned by global telecommunications and media organisations. Part of this contradiction emerges out of the professionalisation and the commodification of sport and its transfer of ownership from the community to the private interests of tycoons. Just look at the elevation of football club Manchester United from local community club to global corporation owned by millionaires (note here the rise of Beckham, former Manchester United player).
The privatisation of sports has made players the private property of tycoons but their proximity to the public through the new media means they symbolically belong to the sporting public.
Sports have also been subject to increasing levels of control and sanitising. Paradoxically there are levels of control over the lives of sports stars in the form of agreements on good conduct and codes of practice in order to control undisciplined incidents that may impede the marketability of sports.
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