In this modern, media-saturated day and age in which we live, there are several things that make little to no sense. One of them is the obsessive focus on “optics” - worrying more about the way things look than about the actual thing being done, as if the visual were more important.
And you know what? Sometimes it is! I mean, if players were rolling up to the stadium 90 min before games drunk or high, and then losing every week, that’d be a problem of optics as well as of performance (Unless you’re Dock Ellis). But in most cases, those are, indeed, nothing but a fear of Bad Optics. Why do teams hate Bad Optics? Because Twitter is a thing. Because Instagram is a thing. Because we, the collective known as Sports Fans, have decided that we are the ones to pass judgment on all facets of a Sports Player’s life as if we know what they should be doing at all hours of the day, that being Doing Sports Things To The Exclusion Of Everything Else.
As we all know, it’s the holidays. That means different things to different people, of course, but one of the things it does mean, regardless of tradition or belief, is that this is a time to celebrate whatever your beliefs are with your family, friends, and other loved ones. This time of year, there’s family parties, office parties, neighborhood parties - whatever groups one self-identifies into, there’s probably some form of holiday party for that group.
Which brings us to this. Arsenal, at the advice of Per Mertesacker and Petr Cech, have decided to cancel their annual holiday party this year, following two consecutive losses which have seen Arsenal fall nine points behind the suddenly indomitable Chelsea at the top of the table. I obviously have no personal stake in this - I wasn’t invited to the party, I don’t know anyone at Arsenal - but this bothers me on a number of levels.
First off, the reason it was cancelled was those “optics” - namely, how it would look to see Arsenal players out on the town having fun after losing two games in a row and, presumably, causing the near collapse of Western civilization in doing so. Wait, what? It didn’t? Oh.
Per and Petr, they’re smart. They know how fans work these days. They know that if Arsenal go out for a couple hours on a weeknight before a big game and dare to have some fun, a very non-zero, very vocal portion of the fanbase will start baying for blood because HOW DARE YOU HUMAN BEINGS HAVE FUN YOU’RE LOSING SPORTS GAMES THAT’S CLEARLY MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING YOU SHOULD BE WORKING. Which ignores a couple very obvious points:
- If Arsenal aren’t having a holiday party on a weeknight between the hours of, say, 8 and 11 PM, it’s not like they’d be at the training ground running around cones and doing shooting drills with that time anyway
- If Arsenal do have a holiday party, it’s not like they’d party like it was 1988 - it wouldn’t be an exercise in throwing as much booze down their collective throats as humanly possible and then seeing what happens next. So it’s highly unlikely they’d show up for training the next morning hung over and unable to train.
There is literally no good reason for Arsenal to cancel a holiday party, but they did, because sports fans are irrational and don’t care that athletes might want to have some holiday fun with their friends. In a lot of sports fans’ eyes, training for and playing sports are the only things the athletes on their favorite teams exist on this planet to do, so bagawd, anything that isn’t sports isn’t to be done, and is to be loudly protested if and when non-sports things dare to be done. This is why we can’t have nice things.
I guess the bottom line of what I’m saying is: don’t be those sports fans.