Are we dehumanising our sports stars?

Lewis Hamilton is too honest, Andy Murray too moody. When it comes to our sports stars maybe we should just let them be.

    Andy Murray doesn't have the warmest on court manner but he doesn't particularly seem to care [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Sports stars, sports celebrities, sporting heroes and sporting legends... these terms leave us in no doubt that successful sports people are adored by the public. 

    Fans are very quick to idolise men and women who have the guts to take on the world and win.

    Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy was greeted with a hero’s welcome in his hometown following victory at the US Open and, it is likely, the British nation will explode if Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. 

    Rewards are great for those who reach the pinnacle of their profession. But with huge rewards come great sacrifices. 

    When you become a sports star, celebrity, hero and legend, it seems you must try your best not to be human anymore.  

    No laughing matter

    Sport is no longer a game, it is a business. Sport is so lucrative we've started to treat our footballers and tennis players more like politicians than sports people. 

    A once fun and animated arena has seen its personality ebb away as the world’s best performers sacrifice human qualities (such as honesty and weakness) to secure deals with Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Head & Shoulders shampoo.

    PR representatives and agents are turning inspiring characters into squeaky-clean cogs in a money-making machine.   

    Over the last month I have felt for Lewis Hamilton in particular. Not because he is bound to lose the title to Sebastian Vettel, or because his aggressive driving was criticised after Monaco and Canada, but because every time Hamilton tries to speak freely to the press he finds himself in the naughty corner.

    "It is finished really, in the sense of the championship. It is almost over already. We cannot beat the Red Bulls right now. We just can't"

    Lewis Hamilton following the European Grand Prix 

    Following his fourth place finish at the European Grand Prix on Sunday, Hamilton conceded that the World Championship was now out of reach. With a huge 89 point advantage, Vettel could fail to finish his next three races and still be ahead of the British 2008 champion. Hamilton knew the stats, and the mathematician in him deduced the challenge too great. 

    "It is finished really, in the sense of the championship. It is almost over already. We cannot beat the Red Bulls right now. We just can't."

    Come Monday, his story had changed somewhat.

    On his Twitter account Hamilton backtracked, "To all our supporters, ignore what you read in the papers today. My team will never give up and I will never give up. Bring on Silverstone." 

    Had Hamilton in the night been visited by a ghost who said the title was not beyond him or had he received a strict telling off from McLaren chairman Ron Dennis for being so negative, you decide.

    Either way Hamilton had ditched his mathematician guise to don blue leggings and a cape and become the superhero his team, agents and many fans want him to be. 

    Ali G in da house

    It was not the first time Hamilton has gone back on something he said post-race.

    Following the Monaco Grand Prix - where he found himself facing another stewards' enquiry - Hamilton quipped the reason he was singled out was because in the words of (white) British comedy character Ali G: "Maybe it’s because I’m black".

    During a frank interview with the BBC, Hamilton revealed frustration, passion as well as humour, to explain a disappointing weekend at Monaco.

    It was refreshing to see one of the world’s top sportsmen talk so candidly and animatedly.

    One fan on You Tube put it best: "Fantastic! An F1 driver actually showing real emotion and passion. You've gone back up in my books, young bloke. Say what you like, but at least he's not resorting to mindless, bland PR speak."  

    For the briefest of moments Hamilton was human... that is until he had to issue a public apology the very next day for any offence caused.  

       John McEnroe has said he thinks tennis players these days are too placid and don't flare up like he did [GETTY]    

    These days the British driver looks morose by the track-side and I wouldn't be surprised if he is mulling over the irony of how success has led him to a place where he is regularly being chastised over what he says and does.

    It seems sports stars are often condemned for being a bit too human.

    Journalist Jason Cowley certainly has a lot to say about British tennis player Andy Murray.

    "...the trouble with Murray is Murray himself: his apparent joylessness, his lack of charm and humour, his unsmiling reluctance to represent Britain at Davis Cup, his failure to engage with and play off the crowd at Wimbledon," wrote Cowley in the London Evening Standard.

    "This year, he has allowed himself to be irritated, in moments of pause between shots, by the inevitable shouts of 'Come on, Tim'."

    The above statements are precisely why we should like Murray. Take him or leave him, Murray is just being himself. To simply state he should be more likeable is naive, and testament to the way Cowley thinks sport stars should be, not an understanding of who they are.

    Murray's honesty for saying he doesn't like it when people shout "go Tim" (as in former British tennis player Tim Henman) at him on court should be admired. It shows Murray is not afraid of showing his real feelings - a rare human trait in a world of increasingly robotic sportsmen.         

    Who knows best?

    By encouraging sports people to always say the "right" thing and never show any sign of weakness, we run the risk of dehumanising some very special people who might just know what is best for their own careers.

    Money and adoration are worth protecting but how many people would give up their freedom of speech for it.

    "Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray are brave to speak so frankly and not let the PR machine zap the last remnants of humanity from them"

    Joanna Tilley 

    Some of the most legendary people in sport were the ones who couldn't keep their big mouths shut. John McEnroe, Brian Clough, Ayrton Senna, Geoffrey Boycott, Jose Mourinho – these are the characters we want to know more about. Displaying their colourful human qualities never did these guys much harm during or after their careers.

    In these modern times it is understandable that protecting your public image is deemed invaluable because of the huge sponsorship and contracts deals on offer.

    But what sport stars shouldn't forget is that in the end, the big deals go to people the public can associate with... people who are more real than robotic.

    Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray are brave to speak so frankly and not let the PR machine zap the last remnants of humanity from them. 

    Hopefully they will have far more successful and happy careers because of it.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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