Ravel Morrison And The Decline of Empathy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Ravel Morrison (R) of Manchester United celebrates his first half goal during the FA Youth Cup Final 2nd Leg match between Manchester United and Sheffield United at Old Trafford on May 23, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Footballers are people too.

Extracting articles from tweets always feels like a shabby business. It's not for nothing that the Guardian's Fiver have taken to referring to the social networking shemozzle as variations on Lazy Journalist Story Generator. Michael Owen: profoundly dull. Rio Ferdinand: self-facilitating media node. Jack Wilshere: English. It's not exactly the stuff from which Pulitzer's are wrought.

But then looking just at the half-formed blurts themselves is to miss the fun, which is the interactivity of the thing. A player says something; everybody talks about it, to him and to each other. Recently, of course, this has meant that Stan Collymore has been treated to the finest in spittle-flecked racism and sanctimonious point-missing that the internet has to offer. But reading and writing about racism is starting to destroy my faith in humanity, so let's talk about a Twitter splurge less notable, less important, but perhaps more interesting once you get down to it. Let's talk about @RavelMorrison49.

Ravel Morrison, by way of a brief introduction, is a Manchester United prospect of astounding potential around whom words like "troubled" and "scandal" cloud as thickly as do "natural" and "gifted". These profiles are recommended for more detail, but the most recent, serious lowlight was a 12-month court order, issued in response to Morrison pleading guilty to witness intimidation following threats made to a victim of a mugging. But worse -- much worse, of course -- was that last night he tweeted the following:

I can not waite till the end of the season

This piece isn't about the OH GOD WHAT DID HE MEAN RAVEL DON'T LEAVE US HOW COULD YOU YOU INGRATE GO ON WE'RE BETTER OFF WITHOUT OUT YOU NO PLAYER IS BIGGER THAN THE CLUB WE THOUGHT YOU WERE SO GOOD IS IT CITY IT'S CITY ISN'T IT YOU S*** responses that some Manchester United fans went with. Those are boring. Nor is it about the unhappy minority who decided that something more along the lines of "F*** off, pikey c***" was a measured response. Those are heartsinking. This is about a third line of response, which ran something along the lines of "Doesn't he realise how lucky he is to be a footballer? What a grave insult such whining is to those of us who aren't footballers."

(Morrison himself, incidentally, explained that the tweet referred to a planned family holiday to Jamaica, which was greeted with no small scepticism.)

Let's place aside the thought that, since being a footballer apparently empowers the world to hurl abuse your way on the slightest suggestion of the merest scintilla of the tiniest fraction of provocation, perhaps it's not that "lucky" a way to live your life after all. It's a common assumption that footballers are lucky to do what they do, because what they do is better than normal life: they play for a living, while others work.

This is problematic. Not because it's necessarily untrue -- though I think it's an unhelpful and reductive understanding of what being a footballer involves -- but because it makes an unreasonable demand of any given footballer, which is that they maintain, at all times, a sense of perspective. Footballers, so the thinking goes, should jog through their blessed lives with a beatific grin on their faces, constantly reflecting on the simple wonder of their own existence. A setback? Pah! A personal disappointment? No matter!

It's nonsense, of course. Chiding a footballer for being miffed at the setbacks of a footballer is exactly parallel to me, in my role as weekday desk-drone, hearing a colleague say "God, what a week. I hate this job," and demanding that she consider the fact that she could, but for the grace of mighty Pazuzu, be starving in a gutter in Delhi, or quivering behind a pistol in an Argentinean barrio, or sat in a factory in Pakistan stitching panel to shiny panel at the behest of a multi-national sporting equipment company who shall remain nameless. While it's true, it's completely unhelpful.

Everyone but everyone gets bored, everyone gets unhappy, and everyone gets sick of what they do. Whether you have the greatest job in the world or not -- be you the taste-tester for McVitie's or the man responsible for designing fireworks -- the simple fact of doing coupled with existing will, at some point, get you down. That's life. That's how it goes. Self-defined misery is the human condition. And those who demand that Morrison show empathy with those 'less fortunate' than himself serve only to demonstrate their own lack of same.

You don't have to sympathise, of course; that's a different question. But it's not hard to see this as one more tiny example of the generalised dehumanisation of footballers in England that can perhaps be traced back to the influx of Premier League money and the explosion of wages. If you're lucky, talented, and rich, then don't you dare have a bad day. Don't you dare get mardy. Because your privilege -- which, of course, seems only natural to you -- strips you of that right. It bubbles up from time to time, this: think of the first time that rumours of Tevez's homesickness started to emerge. They were dismissed not as unlikely, but as impossible, because he earned so much. Or, more seriously, think of Ron Atkinson's response to being asked if he had any sympathy with Stan Collymore, newly-diagnosed with depression. "Not on f***ng twenty-five grand a week I don't".

Those are extreme examples, but they're from the same continuum. And something's gone very wrong with the world, and more importantly with football, if we've arrived at a place where a significant number of fans -- not all, of course, but plenty -- are instantly and naturally contemptuous of any footballer caught being excessively human. Ravel Morrison may be a ungrateful pillock, but he's allowed to be. As are we all.

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