Wayne hears the one about the physicist, astronomer, and microbiologist walking into a bar
It is an unfortunate trait of many that I know and admire to dismiss all footballers as 'thick'. Whilst watching Charlie Brooker's hugely enjoyable Screenwipe, his description of the World Cup as "thick millionaires kicking a ball around a field" struck me as being indicative of an attitude towards intelligence that is prevalent both in the media and in modern society.
Understand that I am not having a go at Charlie Brooker. I find him immensely readable and entertaining. His comments are facetious, and no one is going to be losing sleep over them. But the technique of reducing the sport of football down to its most basic, observable features seems to happen with a regularity that does not apply to other forms of entertainment. On top of this, think of the number of jokes which rest on the premise of the stupidity of the footballer. I would be willing to bet that nearly everyone knows a 'David Beckham joke'.
I find the phenomenon odd. Admittedly interviews with footballers don't tend to be the most revealing things ever. But the same could be said for musicians, dancers or any number of essentially non-verbal professions . Well respected classical musicians regularly resort to terrible analogies of food and colour when attempting to explain why one particular piece of music should be considered brilliant. The fact is that football is ultimately a cerebral activity. The best players in the world are not the most physically dominant or excellent. There were and are defenders that were quicker, taller and stronger than Paolo Maldini. Like Anton Ferdinand. But none could compare with his reading of the game, or his overall ability to defend.
Footballers don't need to deal in words; they deal in geometry, spatial awareness, body language and physical coordination.
It is a mistake to treat intelligence as being a single, quantifiable capacity. I may well vocalize a sentiment with greater eloquence than Joe Cole (in whom the disparity between verbal and physical intelligence seems greatest) but lack the requisite mental capacities to emulate his abilities with a football. Footballers don't need to deal in words; they deal in geometry, spatial awareness, body language and physical coordination. These are all forms of intelligence.
The motivation to discredit the language footballers speak is two fold. It stems, in part, from those whose intelligence lies firmly within the realm of the verbal and analytic to maintain that their intelligence is superior to other forms, and should be considered the only true form of intelligence. Given the nature of their intelligence, they are well placed to advance such a view.
I would also argue that the attitude is informed by a degree of snobbery. Football is an equal opportunity employer in a way that almost no other area of life is, and as a consequence, sees a number of working class men making a lot of money and being venerated. It is this, ultimately, which informs the attitude that footballers are thick, whilst cricketers and rugby players do not suffer the same treatment.
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