Friday, February 12, 2016

Facing The Music: On The Sorry Story Of Disgraced Winger Adam Johnson

The trappings of modern day footballers is immense, rich, privileged and publicized. As a professional athlete earning millions of pounds, euros, dollars from endorsement, anything that you do will be magnified by the media, and if you overstep your boundaries, you risk losing it all. 

In England, one classic example of a player's fall from grace is winger Adam Johnson, whose despicable indiscretions will forever alter the lives of many. Before that, Johnson had a lengthy football career that started in 1995 and included stints at Newcastle United, Middlesborough, Leeds United, Watford, Manchester City, and most recently, Sunderland, where he scored 19 goals in 109 appearances.

Johnson already has a partner and a daughter, who was born more than a year ago, in January of 2015. However, his life changed for the worse on Mar. 2 of that year, when he was arrested by Durham Police on suspicion on having sexual activity with an underage girl, 15 at the time. Just this week, he plead guilty to "one count of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming."

Immediately, Sunderland terminated his contract and Adidas terminated his deal with him. The Daily Mail, which also described the events leading up to the sacking. wrote this of Johnson's plight.
Sunderland had not expected the guilty pleas, they had not even suspected them. They had, with good intentions, supported their employee, a man who protested his innocence. But now he had pleaded guilty. Guilty of child-sex offences.

The club did not comment on the stunning development to begin with, other than to say they had backtracked on their initial decision to allow Johnson to remain part of the first-team squad during his trial.

But then, at 7pm on Thursday, Sportsmail broke the news that Johnson - whose contract was set to expire in the summer - had been sacked. A club statement followed within half an hour, confirming that his contract had been terminated with immediate effect in light of the guilty pleas.

Some will argue they had no choice - except they did. The Premier League leaves to the discretion of the football club as to whether a player guilty of child-sex offences is allowed to play. Sunderland decided that Johnson should not and acted swiftly.

So what next for Johnson? For now, he cannot look beyond the next 10 days or so, a period in which he will be tried in front of a jury on two further counts of sexual activity with a child, both involving penetration. He denies the charges. On a football pitch, however, there is no denying that his future is in serious doubt.

Disgraced players have time to turn their life and fortunes around. Many have failed, others have succeeded. In the case of Johnson, he now reaches a personal crossroads, and a heavy cross to bear as a result of his own personal hubris. At age 28, Adam Johnson will have plenty of time in solitary confinement to think and change how he views the world around him when his sentence is completed.

Without question, he is currently despised in many footballing circles in and out of Britain. He has let his partner down. He has let his daughter down. He has let his many fans from his numerous clubs down and he has let the sport down. He is not alone, as other players in the the NFL, NBA and soccer have come under similar charges.

In these challenging times that await Adam Johnson, a lot will need to be asked of him. Weekly and monthly counseling sessions with experts specializing in family therapy and pedophilia await. A reaffirmed commitment to securing the happiness of his partner and daughter, and the solidarity of his community is on the cards. Finally an open desire to be an advocate of the sport and be a role model outside of sport may win back the support he has lost. A monumental task as it will be a major uphill battle, but it won't be an impossible climb.

You see, fallen stars whose backs are clearly against the wall rise up, kick back at the darkness until it bleeds daylight, and redeem themselves courageously in and out of their sport. So a new life journey will await this fallen star, one that many (or few) hope will rise again just like his star role when he was a shining star playing for Sunderland and the Three Lions once upon a time.

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