In John Terry, soccer has its Tiger Woods—again

Posted Thursday, February 04, 2010 by AP

PARIS (AP)—If England captain John Terry lifts soccer’s World Cup in July, his alleged marital infidelities will be forgotten—even forgiven—faster than you can say “Love Rat.”

No one, other than Terry’s wife, perhaps, will recall model Alicia Douvall’s (paid for?) newspaper claim that the Chelsea defender seduced her in a London nightclub by placing a cocktail stirrer in her surgically enhanced cleavage and supposedly making “explicit remarks about what he’d like to do to me.”

The mounds of newsprint wasted on whether Terry is unfit for the captaincy because of the allegations that he also played away from home with the ex-girlfriend of England teammate Wayne Bridge will long since have been used to wrap fish and chips.

All people will see and care about is the World Cup’s sheen, not the flaws of the man holding it. The reporters now feigning moral indignation wouldn’t dare bring up the name of alleged twice-a-week mistress Vanessa Perroncel at the winners’ news conference because they’d be hissed at by their peers and shot looks of disgust.

Terry irritated Britain’s ruthless tabloids by trying to get a judge to suppress the stories about him, applying for the nuclear weapon of gag orders, a so-called “super injunction.” After judge Michael Tugendhat lifted the reporting restrictions last Friday, editors exacted revenge by splashing tawdry details on page after page.

But imagine the headlines should Terry score the winning goal in the World Cup final in Johannesburg on July 11, ending four decades of disappointment for England.

“Terryfic!” Perhaps even “Saint John!”

It might not be right. It might not be admirable. But the fact is that everyone loves a winner, even when they’re a sinner, too. If fans are honest, they’ll acknowledge that they expect their sporting heroes to perform and to win — not cure cancer, solve global warming or even be sober or nice.

Standards are so low that some fans aren’t even bothered that their icons cheat to win. If they were, they wouldn’t cheer dopers at the Tour de France or baseball players whose steroid-assisted muscles blew up faster than an Atlantic storm.

So pretending that sports people have let everyone of us down when they are caught with their pants around their ankles, bringing guns into locker rooms, smoking a marijuana pipe or urinating in public is hypocritical.

Sports people are just ordinary people who, if they are lucky, get paid extraordinarily well for doing extraordinary things. But that doesn’t make them extraordinary. Some of them are barely literate. One reason, surely, that teams bus players to matches is because some of them aren’t adult enough to find a stadium unassisted or get there on time.

If society wants kids to have role models, point them toward the likes of Mother Teresa instead of Tiger Woods. Even the animal kingdom offers better examples of monogamy than the venal world of modern sports.

Paying young men—because it’s still mostly men making the really big money — the equivalent every week of what company CEOs might earn yearly virtually guarantees trouble; their sudden wealth attracts dubious company and dubious choices.

It does not buy role models. Never has.

Terry was made England captain because he is a winner, a fearsome defender and an on-field leader. Since those were the requirements expected of him then, they should be the standards by which his continued suitability should be measured now.

For the FA to suddenly pretend that it truly cares about its captains’ off-field antics would stretch credulity, given the philanderers and boozers who have previously worn the armband. Terry’s behavior can hardly have surprised the FA. This is, after all, the same player fined by Chelsea for a drinking binge at a hotel packed with shaken American tourists 24 hours after the Sept. 11 terror attacks of 2001—long before he was made England captain.

While Terry might not be smart enough to keep his name out of gossip pages, he does seem to realize that his path to public redemption lies on a soccer pitch. Unlike Woods, who has been Mr. Invisible since his infidelities were dished up to the fickle court of public opinion, Terry is playing through the storm.

Each match, each goal, for Chelsea and England is a step back from disgrace.

Weeks in a sex-addiction clinic—if he’s at one—may help rescue Woods’ marriage. The reported possibility that Terry might visit his estranged wife in Dubai could rescue his. But if Terry scores a World Cup-winning goal, or if Woods breaks Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, then they can be assured of undying love from fans.

Perhaps not tasteful. But it is true.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org.



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