Between 2015 and 2016, there was a 20% rise in deaths from drink-driving in the United Kingdom, and initial figures suggest that the number rose even further in 2017. In 2016, the last year for which official statistics are available, 9,050 people were killed or injured by a driver who was over the legal alcohol limit. One point on which all studies agree: the problem is getting worse.
That information suggests two things: the punitive penalties for drink-driving are not enough to dissuade people from committing the crime, and the crime itself is still not judged harshly enough by society as whole. “I’ll just have one more”, “It’s a five-minute drive”, “I know the journey like the back of my hand”; these are all excuses that have become normalised. The insinuation that you are highly unlikely to cause an accident is approaching victim-blaming.
The other classic drink-driving excuse is “I was only just over”, so let’s at least put that to bed in the case of Hugo Lloris. On Wednesday, Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told that Lloris was more than double the legal limit when stopped after jumping a red light and veering near parked cards. Vomit was found in his car and the Tottenham goalkeeper was struggling to stand during his breathalyser test.
Lloris had been enjoying a night with fellow footballers Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud, and had been bought drinks by supporters. Having ordered a taxi and had it cancelled, Lloris chose to climb into his Porsche and put lives at danger. Why should it be sugar-coated? Lloris is lucky that his selfishness did not kill or injure anyone.
Lloris’ punishment in court was to be fined the equivalent of just over two days’ wages, and his club have chosen to add another two weeks’ salary. The headline news is that Tottenham will not strip Lloris of the club captaincy. Explicitly or otherwise, they are calling it business as usual.
Selling sports stars or celebrities as role models is an uncomfortable position. Blaming the behaviour of children on the behaviour of the famous indicates a fault in the parenting system as much as the celebrity. As NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley famously said in 1993: “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Furthermore, studies have repeatedly concluded that children as young as five are emotionally mature enough to separate the positive and negative characteristics of their heroes. In contrast to the actions of their peers, there is no learned behaviour at play here. The media framing of sporting stars as influential role models misrepresents the subtleties of the argument.
But Lloris’ case goes beyond his position as a role model. Although athletes deserve to avoid public hounding – and there’s nothing worse than the gutter news photo-stories of ‘player eating dinner’ – it would be foolish to expect off-field actions to have no bearing on a professional career. There is a trade-off, where some flaws can be admonished and quickly forgotten but others must prompt a more lasting impact. If infidelity should not be used as a sporting stick, committing serious crimes should.
With the role of club captain comes an added level of responsibility. ‘Hugo Lloris, Tottenham captain’ has greater resonance than ‘Hugo Lloris, Tottenham goalkeeper’; in amongst the debates of sporting role models, that cannot be denied. You become an ambassador for your club.
“Younes has shown me all the values needed to be a captain,” Mauricio Pochettino said in 2014. “He has the character to lead this team as well as the respect of his teammates. Hugo will be a vice-captain. Along with Younes, he possesses tremendous experience and has shown a great attitude and leadership.”
For his part, Lloris has apologised profusely (although he had no choice but to go full mea culpa) to teammates and manager: “Drink-driving is completely unacceptable, I take full responsibility for my actions and it is not the example I wish to set.” People make mistakes and suffer lapses in judgement, and they should not be indelibly tarred for those lapses.
But eventual forgiveness and appropriate punishment are not mutually exclusive. In their initial statement, Tottenham promised that the club would take the matter extremely seriously. But Lloris has been fined the same as Anthony Martial for his lack of communication about returning to Manchester United training after the birth of his child. We are comparing apples and oranges, but the contrast does make you wince.
Stripping Lloris of the captaincy would have been the obvious move, and the right one. The supporter scenario is easy to imagine: Child asks parent why Lloris is no longer the captain, parent says that Lloris did something naughty and therefore had to be punished to teach him a lesson. Speaking to Tottenham supporters, almost all disagree with Lloris keeping the armband.
The added complication here is Pochettino’s protection of a key player. Lloris was apparently annoyed at being overlooked for the captaincy in 2014 in favour of Kaboul, with several newspapers reporting that it played a part in his desire to join Manchester United should David de Gea leave for Real Madrid. There is a valid question about whether a fringe player might have suffered a period away from the first team for such a serious misdemeanour.
At some point, the morality of a decision – or non-decision – must be placed above its sporting impact. Harry Kane captains England, Jan Vertonghen captained Ajax and Heung-Min Son captains South Korea – Pochettino has several other options. Taking the captaincy away from Lloris need not alter the dynamic of Tottenham’s team. He is hardly a chest-pumping on-pitch leader but uses a quiet authority; that could continue.
Instead this is about a small piece of material that is simultaneously almost meaningless and incredibly significant. Taking the armband away from Lloris would send a statement that Tottenham truly have taken Lloris’ drink-driving seriously. It would allow the goalkeeper to remain in the team, but makes it clear to Tottenham players and staff that such gross indiscipline will not be tolerated. It would tell supporters that Tottenham understand their role as a social institution within the community. Some things are bigger than football.
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