July 12, 2021

What England’s defeat in the Euro Cup can teach us about Shame & Toxic Masculinity.

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“Boris Johnson condemns racist abuse of England players as social media companies are blasted for ‘profiting from hate’” ~ The Telegraph

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Just to be clear, the last time I watched a football match was when Brazil (the team I used to cheer for) played against France in the 1998 FIFA World Cup final game.

Ahh! I still remember a time when sports were just entertainment sports. It was my dad, two siblings, and myself, and each one of us used to cheer for a different team.

But, as much as the football craze would take over every fibre of our soul—the anticipation, the excitement, the sour loss, the bitterment and the resentment toward the winning team, there was still a sense of friendly sportsmanship and a common love for sports—as it should be.

Yesterday, I happened to watch the final game between England and Italy in the Euro Cup 2020 Championship. Now, I know I said I haven’t watched football in ages, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love watching sports. In my opinion, as someone who uses sports on a daily basis to channel my bizarre emotional fluctuations of anxiety, fear, anger, low moods, and competitiveness, I think athletes are phenomenal human beings.

From Michael Jordan to Muhammad Ali to Kobe Bryant to Naomi Osaka and, most recently, England’s own, 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, all of these people exemplify the greatness humans are capable of achieving with consistency, hard work, discipline, and love for something we believe in.

But this morning, I woke up feeling a mixture of anger, sadness, and frustration while reading some of the racist comments and hate language directed at England’s football team players Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho for missing the penalties in the shoot-out game against Italy.

I get it. We all love sports. We’re all emerging from a 15-month long, depressing lockdown. And we all want to share a sense of camaraderie and unified nationalism. And what better way to channel that strong need for belonging than in cheering for our nation’s football team?

But by this very definition, shouldn’t this “camaraderie” also include empathy and compassion toward our common affinity for something, whether it’s our love for sports or politics or just good craft beer? Isn’t the very essence of sports supposed to teach us how to develop a sense of good sportsmanship that we can carry into other areas of our lives? Shouldn’t it help us learn about defeat so that we can taste the sweet flavour of victory?

I mean, when did a friendly football match turn into a political, heated field where, some of us—who may not have even qualified to play in our school’s football team or can get off our couch—feel we have the right to tweet all sorts of hate messages against someone based on their race? Do we even know how to express an educated opinion about sports that is based on our ability to understand sports as speculators, not just as consumers who think we suddenly own the entire Football Association and FIFA just because we paid to watch a final match?

Further, by feeling we have the right to criticize and direct our uneducated hatred toward someone for having caused their national team to lose, what are we teaching our young boys and girls about defeat?

Do we want to teach them that we should never experience anything in life unless we’re always willing to 100 percent win? And if not, even if we’re gifted at something, that we shouldn’t even bother trying? Or that if we’re great at what we do but succumbed under the pressure of performing, which is 99 percent of all professional athletes, that we shouldn’t channel our vulnerability and learn how to be great athletes despite our fears?

In the recent mental health outbreak of the tennis champion, Naomi Osaka, and the 90s pop star, Britney Spears, it is evident that our culture is festered with people who look at celebrities as some sort of Gods and not as normal human beings who, for the most part, experience normal human emotions that we all go through.

What is it with our unhealthy love-hate relationship toward celebrities? Is it our jealousy of their success that triggers what we will never be able to do? Is it our need to put successful people on a God-like pedestal, so that we can’t stand seeing them fail? Is it our hunger to have a daddy or a mommy figure whom we could look up to, but who easily become subjects of our wrath if, God forbid, they ever fail to fulfil our own expectations of them?

I’d like to see the very people who criticize and discriminate against England’s athletes not crack under pressure while living through the rigorous regimen these athletes have to endure—day in and day out—all whilst putting on their best demeanour to entertain people who have come to watch them and corporates who have bet millions on their wins.

From Amy Winehouse to Robin Williams to Prince to Chester Bennington to Chris Cornell to Anthony Bourdain, have we learned absolutely nothing?

In a patriarchal-dominated industry, what do we want to teach our young boys by expressing our strong opinions about sports?

Personally, I love the image where we see the Head Coach of England, Gareth Southgate, and Sako being locked in an embrace, each consoling the other for their country’s and their own mutual defeat.

Southgate who is 51 and Saka who is 19—two men from two different generations—exemplify what all of us, men and women, should have understood by now. That all men can experience disappointment, embarrassment, sadness, and defeat and they are entitled to channel them in any way they feel necessary, even if it means crying it out on national TV.

In my own speculation, beyond entertainment sports, England’s team are the true heroes of the Euro Cup. It takes great humility to accept defeat, but true resilience and character to allow the aftermath of loss to sink in and to willingly and openly share that feeling of vulnerability with other humans, too.

When will we stop viewing performers as Gods and, instead, see them as phenomenal, normal human beings with extremely pressuring careers?

Think about your own social anxiety, stage phobia, introversion, and fear of public speaking—then multiply that by 100 and it still wouldn’t amount to the pressure athletes and celebrities feel to constantly perform and be, not just good, but the best at what they deliver.

Can we imagine for a moment how different the world would be if we could just learn how to channel our anger and hatred toward celebrities’ failures to actual social justice and political issues—like climate change and equal rights?

It’s easy to turn away from the news and say, “Well, everything is just so depressing.” I get it. I do it too, sometimes.

But I think we’ve only got one shot at this. If we truly want to be the change we want to see in the world and create a different experience for our children, it matters that we start caring. It starts with compassion, empathy, and just learning how to chill the f*ck out.

And it certainly won’t change as long as we agree to live in a world where we’re either indifferent or silent or both about discrimination and racism.

“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

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