As England prepares for the World Cup this summer, Raheem Sterling is once again found at the center of attention.
On 28 May, Sterling posted a picture of himself during a training session on his personal Instagram account. In the photo, a tattoo of an M16 rifle was visible on his right leg. Before the midfielder could provide any comments on his new tattoo, many fans, organizations and news sources criticized his decision.
Whilst some called for his release from the English squad, others berated his judgement. Sterling immediately addressed this criticism, stating that when he was two years old his father was murdered with a gun. The England international indicated he will also never touch a gun, and while his tattoo is not yet finished, it is likely it will serve as a statement against gun violence.
Following his comments, the Football Association came to Sterling’s defense, declaring the midfielder and the rest of the England squad are solely preparing for the World Cup this summer.
Sterling is no stranger to media abuse. Over the past few years, various English news sources have singled out the young English player on several occasions. Many of these stories, however, have been very bizarre. For example, after being named Liverpool’s Young Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015, Sterling felt he merited a salary increase. In contrast, several agencies accused him of being greedy.
Other odd stories include the media questioning his purchase of a house for his mother, insulting him for proposing to his girlfriend and buying inexpensive clothing at Primark, despite earning £180,000-a-week. A thread of these strange stories can be found here.
The question then bares why the midfielder receives so much criticism from the English media. First, it is likely many of these stories emerged after the failed contract talks with Liverpool and his transfer to Manchester City. During the spring of 2015, Sterling was invited by the BBC for an interview, where he announced he had turned down a new contract with Liverpool.
It was later revealed that Sterling had not consulted Liverpool prior to the interview, and a rift emerged between then-manager Brendan Rodgers and Aidy Ward, Sterling’s agent. As tensions grew, Sterling was left out of Liverpool’s pre-season tour and he eventually joined Manchester City in July 2015. Journalists and fans labelled Sterling as being greedy, and some even went as far as labelling him a snake, stating he was consumed by money rather than football.
Since his move, Sterling has been booed on several occasions when playing on international duty, and he continues to receive a negative reception from Liverpool fans whenever the Blues and Reds face one another in English competitions.
Whilst surely not an excuse, his age could also play a factor as to his constant media coverage. The English international is currently 23, and given his young age, it is possible the media tries to identify him with a boyish attitude. In several instances, the media has portrayed him as an awkward, spoiled child. Yet, according to those who have personally interviewed him on several accounts, he is intelligent, charismatic and funny.
Whatever the reason, it is likely Sterling will also receive negative coverage during the World Cup. The England international previously served as the scapegoat after England’s embarrassing exit to Iceland during the EURO 2016 competition, and he has often been criticized for his lack of finishing, despite having scored 23 goals in 46 appearances this season, a career high.
Overall, an athlete’s personal life will always be left exposed when one enters the spotlight. But this should not serve as an excuse to normalize the negative and abuse coverage of players. Whatever the reason, the media will continue to do what it pleases as this is the nature of the free press.
Ultimately, this is the consequence of fame and fortune.