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Ben White doesn’t know much about Patrick Vieira

And that’s okay!

Arsenal Training Session Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Clicks rule today’s sports media landscape. Churning out content, especially stuff that will get high engagement because it is shocking or controversial (or you frame it as such), is an all too common route. Similarly common (and oft-annoying) is the outrage reaction culture that goes hand-in-hand with the engagement bait. The takes have to be over the top. Something is either the BEST EVER or WORST IMAGINABLE. There is little room for thoughtfulness or nuance. Black and white only.

So it should come as no surprise to any of us that Ben White’s admission that he doesn’t know much about Patrick Vieira sent the hot take artists into overdrive. “How could he not know about an Arsenal club legend” was the general gist of the overreaction theater and that somehow it reflects poorly on him as a footballer

Here’s what Ben White said:

“I didn’t ever watch football when I was younger and still don’t now. I just love the game. I was always playing it, never watching it so I don’t know too much about the older generation. I know he was a very good player, but yeah I wouldn’t know the details.”

He went on to say:

“It’s so intense. You come in here every day and you give 100%. All I want to do is go home at the end of the day and not think about it, come in the morning fresh and ready to give 100% again.”

So let’s unpack this a bit. First off, Ben White was 7-years old when Patrick Vieira left Arsenal for Italy. He was 14 when the Frenchman retired. Do you remember more than, “yeah, that dude was good,” about the top players from when you were that age?

Ben White didn’t grow up an Arsenal fan or a Serie A fan as far as I know. There’s no reason for him to have any particular knowledge of Vieira’s career. There is also no reason or requirement that he be well-steeped in Arsenal lore and history.

His job is to play football, which brings us to the second quote — that in his free time, he wants to unplug from football and recharge. Do you come home from a day of work and watch work-related videos in your free time? It might be slightly different with athletes and sports because watching sports is a typical leisure activity for people whereas, say, accounting / lawyering / doctoring is not. But there’s nothing that says athletes have to enjoy watching sports, the one they play or otherwise.

As Arsenal supporters, I thought we’d already covered this with Hector Bellerin. (I’ll never pass up an opportunity to share this quote and recommend that people (re)watch Bellerin’s Oxford Union interview).

“So many people Tweet me saying focus on the game, having seen me at fashion shows or whatever, and I am just like ‘don’t worry. I am a human being. I have passions, I have hobbies but equally, I am a footballer and that is my main focus.’”

On another occasion, Bellerin said:

“The problem is that people have an idea of what a footballer should look like, how they should behave, what they should talk about.”

It’s much the same thing with Ben White. We have some (mostly wrong-headed) idea of what a footballer is supposed to look like, what he or she is supposed to do, and how they’re supposed to live their life. When they don’t do any or all of those things, we react negatively and critically.

Footballers don’t have to live, eat, and breath the game. For some, like White and Bellerin, they are probably better footballers for understanding what works for them, what other passions they have in life, and pursuing a healthy work-life balance. There are some footballers for whom being a gym rat (pitch rat?) / game film-obsessed / football nerd is best for them. There is not a one-size fits all solution and no approach is inherently better than any other.

To be fair, the more reasonable heads reacted similarly to how I did in this post — “who cares” — and I’m assuming that the majority of you are of the same opinion. As a football-supporting public, I think we’ve been moving in the right direction, and the number of people reacting to this non-story with shrug emoji shows the positive growth.

But as sure as Granit Xhaka occasionally doing something incredibly stupid on the pitch or me complaining about refereeing, there will be attention-seeking idiots desperately searching for their 15 minutes by peddling manufactured outrage. I’m glad we have fewer of those types these days and that we’re more willing to shout them down or ignore them outright.