As the global sports industry continues to grow — from a million-dollar business to a billion-dollar business to a trillion-dollar business and beyond — not every element of its progress has been positive.
There was a time when 24-hour sports TV networks, 24-hour sports radio stations, social media and tabloid-style journalism did not dictate the pace and set the tone of the sports world; a time before modern technology combined with our modern need to be up in athletes’ business to create a climate in which cameras and microphones can now pick up every single thing athletes do on and off the field.
Sometimes the athletes forget that.
Papiss Cisse, a 29-year-old Muslim Senegalese striker for Newcastle United of England’s Premier League, and Mesut Ozil, a 26-year-old Muslim German midfielder for Arsenal of the Premier League, are two recent examples.
Cisse is two matches into a seven-match suspension he earned for spitting on Manchester United’s Jonny Evans when their teams met on March 4.
Ozil is not in any official trouble, but he’s getting heat from fans and the media for being spotted at a Berlin nightclub just hours after he sat out Arsenal’s match on Saturday due to a reported illness.
The two soccer stars are learning what every athlete should know in 2015: That anything they do in public is likely to be seen by somebody who they’d prefer didn’t see it. In Cisse’s case, it was the TV cameras that caught him doing something the referees missed. For Ozil, it was people at the club (probably armed with camera phones) seeing him somewhere he probably didn’t want his coaches seeing him.
In a column for UK’s Chronicle Live, former Newcastle player Mick Quinn — whose soccer career spanned a time when athletes still had something resembling privacy (or at least mystery) — laid out the reality of Cisse’s situation:
You can’t roll your eyes on the pitch now without there being a camera on you. The Premier League is one of the biggest televised events in the world every weekend, and every player walks onto the pitch knowing that they’re under intense scrutiny for 90-plus minutes.
That’s one of the things that comes with the big money and the high profile — you get away with absolutely nothing these days. The snide little things that used to happen in the past on the football field — which were part and parcel of the game back then — are a thing of the past.
Cisse is a good lad who has now made two big mistakes this season and it has cost him. A seven-game ban is a massive punishment, but it was childish and stupid to spit at a fellow player.
Quinn, who admits that he couldn’t play the same aggressive and borderline dirty style now that he did back in his day, refers to the Premier League as the “Truman Show.”
He’s not wrong. Big-time sports, from the NFL to major international soccer leagues to even college and amateur competitions like the Olympics, are big-time entertainment presentations. And there’s a lucrative media industry built around this new brand of sports entertainment that thrives on controversy, whether it’s legit or manufactured.
And just as there are now cameras and microphones everywhere in and around the stadium, ready to give the public full access to how athletes operate at work, there are also cameras and mics waiting everywhere else in the city, ready to give us a glimpse into athletes’ lives away from work.
Of course it is hypocritical for fans and media to fondly wax nostalgic about “old-school” sports bullies like Dick Butkus and famous partyers like Babe Ruth, then morally vilify active athletes like Cisse and Ozil whose actions aren’t even as bad as their predecessors.
But that doesn’t make the wrongs committed by these athletes any more right.
And for Cisse, Ozil and any other Muslim athlete, they should especially know that even if they do escape TV cameras and smart phones, they will never escape the view of Allah (swt). The All-Seeing and All-Wise has those names (among others) for a reason.
“Verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Quran 4:135)
“And He is with you wherever you may be.” (Quran 57:4)
“And know that Allah knows what is in your minds, so fear Him.” (Quran 2:235)
Too many athletes — too many people — seem to be worried more about what the public sees than what their Creator sees. Or worse, they trick themselves into believing certain things they do aren’t being seen by their Creator. Those of us who aren’t celebrities typically don’t have to worry about our uglier moments being recorded and distributed worldwide.
But if we remembered that our uglier moments are being recorded and will be recounted on Judgment Day, we’d be more careful and take more personal responsibility at all times.