Rooney's foul mouth a product of our times
For a man making millions, playing soccer at an iconic club and, thanks to his latest star performance, with one hand practically on the Premier League trophy, Wayne Rooney doesn't seem very happy. What unnerving anger!
Were Rooney to yell ''I love strawberry-flavored lip gloss,'' it still would be terrifying if spat with the same venom with which he stared menacingly into a pitch-side camera and let rip with his foul mouth this weekend. The thuggish so-called ''celebration'' of his first hat trick in 14 months radiated rage and lack of self-control, not deep-down content. Rooney is the polar opposite of Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, who is a joy to watch because he takes such joy from playing. You can't say that of Rooney.
It wasn't so much the F-word that Rooney used twice that was shocking - because it's not news that he can be a boor and because so many people swear these days. Rather, it was the fury in his voice and the murderous look on his face, like a boxer staring down a bloodied and fallen opponent, yelling at him to get off the canvas for a continued beating. This was primal, like Robert De Niro in ''Raging Bull.''
How much offense offensive language causes is a very personal matter. For some, the F-word is a big deal, to others it is not. The degree of offense can also depend on who you're with. Parents watching the West Ham-Man United match with kids in the room might have felt more anger or embarrassment at Rooney's behavior than viewers sharing the game with adult friends at a bar. So who is soccer trying to cater to? Is it family entertainment? Some would argue that the rough edges of soccer are part of its appeal.
Fact is, swearing and offensive language and behavior remain rife in English soccer. Go to many games and you will hear fans chant abuse at players, managers and at each other. That, not the soccer, is why some of them go. And Rooney is frequently a target of crowd cruelty, facing songs about his wife, his sexual habits, his weight and his origins from a tough and poor part of Liverpool. The mindless behavior of some fans does not excuse Rooney's outburst but it does put it into context. Everyone at West Ham's ground surely will have heard the F-word many times before. Rooney's foul language is not just a hangover from the tough neighborhood he grew up in, it is also a product of our times.
As Rooney's Man United teammate Rio Ferdinand tweeted, ''Are football stadiums 'no swearing' zones?! When I take my kids to a football match I'm getting him headphones coz swearing is rife!''
There are other things in football that also make one wonder at times whether it would be better to show kids Disney cartoons. When players are violent, for instance - like AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso was in headbutting Tottenham assistant coach Joe Jordan in February. Or when they blatantly cheat - as France striker Thierry Henry did with his infamous hand ball against Ireland last year. Or when they are mindless like Luis Moreno, now a YouTube villain for the video of him kicking an injured owl off the pitch during a match in Colombia. Or when they display more money than sense - as with Rooney when he was alleged last year to have bedded prostitutes while his wife was pregnant.
Footballers as role models? Forget it.
Didier Drogba also used the F-word on-camera after Chelsea lost to Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League semifinals. Drogba served a three-match ban - quite right given that his rant and an outburst of finger-waving were directed at the referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo.
But in Rooney's case, as he explained in a quickly issued statement of apology, his outburst ''was not aimed at anyone in particular.''
Which only made it more scary. The blindness of his rage and the fact that his temper erupted without warning made the language itself seem extra offensive. As a spectator, the fear was that he might reach out of the television and rip your head off. The poor sound quality from the camera and the vehemence with which he spat them out made Rooney's F-words hard to distinguish. But there was no mistaking the look on his face.
His brutish intensity is part of what makes Rooney so valuable to Man United. But his anger obscures the quality of his play.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org