Archive for November 2015

Role models for men are underrated.

Right, since it’s International Men’s Day, I thought I would write something quick. I would simply like to say that I think that role models for men are underrated. I remember watching a popular Charles Barkley advert for Nike, in which he said that he was not a role model, and that parents should be role models. I understood the sentiment – that it should not be the job of a total stranger to raise or inspire your child – but I disagreed with it then, and I disagree with it even more now. If you grow up without parents, or without attentive ones, then you often look for those figures elsewhere – and, at the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I do think that we have a responsibility for how we conduct ourselves, particularly when it comes to the next generation and the examples they take from us. It is remarkable how many men will adopt without question the behaviour of men they admire. This is why men like Sonny Bill Williams, Hakeem Olajuwon and Andres Iniesta are important – because even at the peak of their fame, they show compassion, humility and warmth, qualities not readily enough associated with being a man. This is why men like Adel Termos, Captain Mbaye Diagne, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Janusz Bardach should have statues in their honour. 

And manhood, being a man, are things we frequently take for granted, but I don’t think being a man is particularly easy. I don’t mean that in some sob-story kind of way, but more strategically: as in how, in a world which is weighted so much in favour of men, I can usefully act to make a positive difference. And I don’t claim to have any particularly enlightened status here – at the age of thirty-six, I am still watching, and learning, and listening. Because I definitely won’t always get it right, but that is never an excuse for not trying.

 

On the Paris Attacks.

In a few hours I’ll meet up with my local football team, SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale, to play football. I’m not sure if I’ll get a game, as my first touch seems to have regressed as quickly as my hairline in recent years, but I am so proud just to be part of the squad. I think that there is something very special about my club’s ethos: to quote, “SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale is an international ‘freizeit’ football team based in Berlin which stands against sexism, racism, fascism and homophobia.

What a beautiful, noble aim. Just last night, when news of the Paris attacks first broke, I and some fellow team-mates had been watching a friend – one of our first-choice centre-backs – launching his new single. (He’s a singer-songwriter in that late-Sixties style, really good actually. He is definitely a case of “you should probably give up the day job”.

This weekend I am indulging in two of my favourite things: watching football, and playing live music. Of course, these are two of the things that Parisians were so enjoying just before the horror. And there was something so overwhelming, so jarring, so futile about watching the news develop on our smartphones, knowing that the innocence of a night out just like ours was being torn away forever.

So, at a time like this, how can we respond? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I will try to respond in two ways. First of all, with bravery. And by bravery I don’t mean lust for retribution – for any response obviously needs to be considered calmly and carefully. By bravery I mean trying to be more kind and compassionate than ever; by critiquing and rejecting extremism wherever I can. And secondly, wherever possible, I will try to respond with gratefulness. My world was not broken apart last night, nor has it been touched by the desperation faced by so many refugees. And so, in that spirit of gratefulness, I will try to be that little bit better a son, brother, and human being; and, maybe, even that little bit better a footballer. Because this brief, gentle, fragile life is all that we have, and I will set forward to live it with as open a heart and with as much optimism as I can. And so, now all that’s said: Go Inter.