James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Who decided footballers are role models?

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After a week of often vitriolic debate about whether Ched Evans should return to Bramall Lane, the prospect of managing a football match, irrespective of its final outcome, must seem like a blessed relief for Nigel Clough and his staff.

Questions about results, referees and the United manager’s own personal favourite - the merits of two versus one up front - have probably never been so welcome. After all, this is what he is paid to do. Negotiate the club through a League One season rather than a moral and legal maze. Although, as the past seven days have shown, occasionally they are not indeterminate issues.

Most sensible people, whatever side of the argument they are on, will possess a degree of sympathy and understanding for those who possess wholly different opinions to their own. Without resorting to labelling folk as apologists for rape or wishing the crime on those believe Evans, convicted of the offence in April 2012 but whom continues to protest his innocence, should be allowed to resume a career in the professional game.

The same playground name-calling, albeit with different labels attached, is being used by many of those lambasting the ‘no’ camp as well.

But there is a wider issue involved here as well. One which stretches beyond Evans, the legal process and Bramall Lane. The notion that athletes are automatically bestowed with ‘role model’ status the moment they carve careers in their chosen disciplines.

That Joe Bloggs is invested with the power to influence impressionable because he is good at playing rugby league. Or Josephine Billycan signs-up to teaching folk about acceptable conduct when someone identifies her talent for taekwondo.

They don’t. That’s a clause we have surreptitiously inserted into the contract as earning potentials boomed.

But many members of our society seem prepared to divest themselves of that responsibility. Allow folk they have probably never met and certainly do not know to guide their children, young friends or relatives through their formative years simply because they are good at sport. Or business. Or entertainment. Or art.

Fortunately, that was not the case in the Shield family. Nor in most others too. Bizarrely, listening to much of the commentary surrounding the Evans issue, it seems it is in some.

Growing-up, my own personal hero was beset with gambling problems. But, as much as I worshipped him out on the pitch, the bookies have stayed pretty much off-limits. I knew that wagering huge sums on greyhounds and horses was not a wise thing to do. Why? I was told.

Okay, if someone chooses to position themselves as a paragon of virtue and probity, such as adulterous politicians who campaign on a family values ticket or Premier League stars who write books for kids, they deserve to be held to account when they do not meet the high standards they set others.

But that’s a different argument. The world would be a much better place if all of us tried to be role models to our children or those within our care. Not allow other, often equally flawed individuals, to perform even part of that job just because they are in the public eye.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1