It should come as no surprise that many players won’t get the jab, considering their inherent body obsession, exceptionalism and privilege.
There has been much subsequent discussion about footballers and vaccines since I wrote a column last Monday suggesting we were on the verge of fixture list chaos and needed clarity from the Premier League et al. about the criteria for postponing games.
It puzzles and angers many that in England so many footballers won’t get the jabs. While male footballers may not be massively different in numbers to any other young men in their 20s and 30s in their hesitancy to get vaccinated, with roughly 25% not interested, they are, in other ways, very different to us and this explains their anti-social choice.
They rely on their bodies for their living. So do all of us in one way or another. You need working fingers and a fat arse to sit on while writing. But for most of us it is less of a psychological issue. Our identity, status and living is not so tied into an extreme version of fitness and physicality in the same way a footballer’s is. They are incredibly sensitive to tweaks and twangs and pay more attention to their bodies than most of us ever do. They know the name of muscles that on normal bodies are undeveloped. Modern football has forced these people, especially at the higher levels, to be athletes first and players second.
In modern culture, people with these bodies – be they footballers or not – are admired. They are on the cover of Men’s Health. They are on the internet with 10 ways to make your lats bigger. They are ‘looking after themselves’ in a way which most of us are not. They are the ultimate, the pinnacle of physical attraction. If only we had bodies like theirs, we’d be happier. That is the narrative, at least.
Look at the slavish adoration of Ronaldo whose physique looks vaguely ridiculous in a strangely bulbous and swollen way. To think it looks good is to give in to a form of body dysmorphia. Such extremes are not something worthwhile to strive for or measure yourself against. There is no moral superiority in extreme fitness or muscular development. Looking like that does not make you a better, more worthwhile person than your average decent fella with a bit of a belly on him. Being a bit fat isn’t a marker for moral degeneracy. It does not make you a worse person.
The body fascism that has berated and bullied women for not being the right shape and size since the dawn of time now also bullies men into being more well-built, more well-hung. Thicker, longer, harder, bigger. It is a mentality only endorsed and amplified by pornography. The internet generation has been raised with these values totally absorbed into their cultural DNA.
So every male footballer, having grown up with this hyper-physicality as part of their self-identity, is not divorceable from being a body-conscious physical specimen and this is what makes them susceptible to rumour and half-baked notion about vaccines making you impotent (why not ask someone who’s had it if they can still get hard?), or infertile (why not ask someone who’s had a kid in the last 18 months?), or grow an extra head (hey, actually that could be useful at defending near-post corners).
They’ll take any pill or needle if it facilitates better performance on the pitch (and is legal, obviously). So refusing one which will stop you being ill, or being as ill and helps stop others being ill too, shouldn’t be a great leap of understanding. But it is for some. It is, literally, mental.
The mind is a very malleable thing and it can be persuaded that black is white. I once met an illusionist at a party during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The mesmerist’s art was fascinating. The core skill was in identifying those who would be susceptible to his mind-warping. He reckoned only about a third of every audience was and the various questions he asked at the start of the show as a comedy routine was just part of the selection process.
He did one trick when, after a long and frankly tedious exposition, some people couldn’t stand up when he asked them to. They were astonished to find they were glued to their seats. Me? I stood right up. When I told him this at the party, he laughed and said this was the majority response but a substantial minority were easier to manipulate.
However, it now interests me that that one-third who were stuck to their seats might also be the cohort who refuse vaccines on spurious grounds, who are hunting the internet for ‘medical evidence’ to ‘prove’ their paranoias, who are vulnerable to believing rumour, gossip and lies to be truth. Just look at how many believe in Q-Anon, no matter how extreme and ludicrous it might seem to the more rationally minded. If you can buy that garbage, you can buy anything.
Throw all these trends into a psychological melting pot, be they societal or specific to football, and you get closer to the reasons behind player vaccine hesitancy – even though it is wiping out the fixture list and damaging their clubs. To that we can add in the exceptionalism that comes with being selected for being really good at something from an early age and reinforce that privilege with wealth = you’re a special case, with a lot to lose, so don’t risk a jab.
Jurgen Klopp has spoken well about the issue, highlighting the problems the unvaccinated are causing:
“If a player is not vaccinated at all, he is a constant threat for all of us…he has to change in a different dressing room, he has to eat in a different dining room, he has to sit in a different bus, he has to drive in a different car: from an organisational point of view, it gets really messy.”
The season stands on serious interruption, with an endless rolling wave of 10-day isolations washing in and out throughout 2022 and with the unvaccinated likely far more ill and out for much longer. Some businesses like JCB are mandating vaccination as a qualification for the job. Klopp agrees. If football did the same, would it help break the body-obsessed spell that these people seem to be under, or would they still be stuck to their seats?
Why don’t we find out?