Being a professional athlete is no easy feat. We may see glimpses of training and performances in big competitions, but we rarely see the trials and tribulations required to make it to the big stage. Some may argue that social media has given us unprecedented access to our favourite players, but it’s still only a fraction of their reality. At the end of the day, we only see what the athletes want us to see.
Despite the fame and exposure, these athletes are still human beings with real feelings and emotions. They deserved to be treated that way, too.
It’s this belief that makes Kylian Mbappé’s revelations about his treatment in France after Euro 2020 very hard to take. Important conversations about player welfare at every level of the game need to be had. We see more of our players on TV and on social media than ever before, but what about the moments we’re not seeing?
In an interview with L’Equipe this week, KM7 revealed he suffered racial abuse after missing a penalty at Euro 2020 but didn’t feel like he received enough support from FFF or his teammates, and believed he instead became an “issue” to the detriment of the national team.
This is a player who has never been short of confidence in his approach, ever smiling and ever present. The Golden Boy of French football. To see him come out and admit he contemplated international retirement only three years after winning the World Cup in 2018 raises serious questions about the support structures in place for elite athletes, and it’s a reminder that not everything is what it seems at face value.
No one is immune from feeling vulnerable or being the target of abuse, and in those moments it is essential for the game’s leaders to stand alongside those who are suffering.
At just 22-years-old, Mbappé is not only one of the best players in the world, but a leader for a new generation of ballers. To hear he felt as if he had a lack of support from those at the top when he needed it most showcases that football needs to be more aware of supporting their players emotionally and mentally in tough times.
Everyone can fall short of what they want to achieve, and Mbappé would say this of himself. The penalty miss that saw France knocked out of the Euros is the self-proclaimed “low point” of his career but such an event should not warrant blame or racial abuse.
It also makes you think about what he may be going through. In a time where he has been so open and vulnerable, the bulk of the discussion still remains about his ongoing transfer talks and not about how he is as an individual.
Some of the biggest athletes in the world like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have been vocal about their own vulnerability this year, and Mbappé deserves credit for sharing his own story.
Alongside this vulnerability needs to be protection and help. Strides are being made within football gradually. Just recently, The world players’ union FIFPRO warned football authorities over the amount of tournaments and increasing fixtures in relation to player health. This can not be the end though and player welfare is more than physical exhaustion. The mental aspect needs to be taken into account too.
We need to reach a place where prevention is prioritised rather than the cure. In the examples of Naomi and Simone, both were still ridiculed for looking after themselves. In relation to Kylian, it remains to be seen whether he will face the same for speaking out. That in itself is a very worrying thought.
The game needs to wake up and protect the players who represent the future of football in good times and bad. We can not afford for the torch bearers to burn out, especially when they are telling us exactly what is happening.