Cognitive Dissonance And Raheem Sterling

Liverpool's young star is one of the most exciting soccer players in the world. He is also, probably, a domestic-abusing creep. What now?
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When I first quit it three years ago, my assumption was that the time I would’ve wasted watching NFL games and playing fantasy football would now be spent on more fulfilling pursuits: finally reading The Brothers Karamazov, say, or starting my own attempt at the Great American Novel. I didn’t get far, and this is mostly NBC’s fault.

Right when I should’ve been slipping happily into the life of the mind, the network had to go ahead and purchase the rights to the English Premier League and stream every EPL game on a free app. I never finished Brothers Karamazov or my own novel, and am now doing the same shit I used to do with American football, just at a slightly earlier hour, and I’m not alone.

By virtue of having access to every game, I and NBC’s other helpless converts are able to follow intriguing players in the way we do with the NBA -- you don’t need to live in Oakland or care about the Kings to stalk Stephen Curry or Boogie Cousins on League Pass. It’s not all that strange that an Arsenal supporter might enjoy watching good, young players, like Ross Barkley at Everton and Saido Berahino at West Bromwich Albion, or great team stories such as the Southampton Saints becoming the Premier League analogue to the Oakland Athletics. More to the point, it’s extremely easy to do so.

Among all these other good reasons to watch, Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling stands out. He has spent the past year breaking out for both club and country, and now that Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rodgers have Sterling playing in a more central attacking position -- as a more traditional No. 10 or in a somewhat nontraditional false nine role (think Lionel Messi at Barcelona) -- he’s shown that he has the potential to be one of the finest players in England, if not the world. If Ross Barkley represents England's Great White Hope -- the player who could one day captain the Three Lions in the way that Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham have before him -- Sterling, who only turned 20 in early December, represents England’s next truly world class player. It’s early, yet, but Sterling sure seems like the type of player who could, at his peak, potentially lead a Champions League or World Cup contender with his pace and creativity with the ball. He’s that good, and that fun to watch.

Watching the scrawny 5’7” midfielder attack center-halves with upwards of five inches on him triggers the happiest kind of Allen Iverson flashbacks. It’s why Sterling was named 2014’s Golden Boy Award winner, an honor bestowed upon Europe’s top under-21 player; previous recipients include Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Manchester City ace Sergio Aguero and last year’s honoree, Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba. There should be no wonder why the Spanish giants Real Madrid have been linked to a possible Sterling move since at least the World Cup.


There is another thing about Raheem Sterling that is important to know. Sterling most likely hits women: he was arrested in two separate instances involving alleged assaults on women over a period of nine months in 2012-2013.

In November 2012, Sterling, who was seventeen at the time but tried as an adult, was charged with common assault after allegedly punching a 27-year-old woman in the face outside a club. The charges against him were later dropped after two key witnesses failed to show up for court. Sterling was once again charged with common assault in August 2013 after his girlfriend (at the time) accused him of becoming physically violent during an argument over a text message; he was found not guilty when the victim was treated as a hostile witness and effectively declined to assist in Sterling’s prosecution.

Someone who wished to do so could argue that, since he was never convicted of a crime, Sterling is innocent. But the lack of a conviction speaks more to the troubling state of prosecution in England than it does Sterling's innocence. The Crown Prosecution Service’s conviction rate for domestic violence was a staggeringly low 6.3% in 2012/2013. The lack of a conviction in a domestic violence case -- or in any crime against a woman, really -- does not equal innocence.

Someone who again wished to do so could argue that Sterling was a young kid -- still is, really, a young kid -- who made mistakes. That's true in terms of chronology and cumulative years on earth, but also there is no age before which it’s somehow okay to assault women; this is an elemental and extremely uncomplicated value, and it is one Sterling has apparently forgotten at least twice. It’s impossible to look at Raheem Sterling and not see a young man who has an uglyhistory of violence against women. He may not be on Floyd Mayweather’s level, but Sterling has, through his actions, made a compelling case for his own terribleness. As dazzling as he is to watch, he is also who he is.


Raheem Sterling is going to be around for the next ten or fifteen years, if he and we are lucky. His game is imperfect and incomplete, but there is a reason why Real Madrid, the reigning European champions, are rumored to be preparing to run the jewels for Sterling: he’s going to be really fucking good. Not to mention the fact that he’s one of the most important players on the English national team, which looks like it has enough good, young talent to possibly make a run in Euro 2016 or Russia in 2018.

And so, because he is so patently not going anywhere, the “Raheem Sterling is growing up” narrative is coming. It will be true insofar as Raheem Sterling, like all carbon-based life forms, will have aged in that period of time. It will be bullshit, too, because he’s never actually apologized or shown contrition for his actions, or given any indication that he acknowledges their seriousness.

Spending Saturday mornings watching Liverpool football, it has become clear that Raheem Sterling’s past is no longer a subject of his narrative. This isn’t quite to say fans have forgiven Sterling for his crimes, but it does seem as if they’re at least willing to ignore them. Part of this undoubtedly owes to the lack of a conviction. The rest of it is likely something weaker and more self-serving: a sort of passive decision that Sterling is enough fun to watch that what we know about who he is and what he has done can be put out of mind.

I’m not as innocent of this urge as I want to be. Raheem Sterling’s skill and creativity make him a joy to watch on the pitch, and his youth and No Fucks Given approach in attacking the goal are why he’s one of my favorite players in the world; watching him on Saturday mornings still gives me a lot of pleasure. I want to hate Raheem Sterling, but I also want to watch him play. I detest what he did, but I love watching him do what he does. I’m a hypocrite, then, and I’m probably not alone in that, either.

It seems painfully obvious that Raheem Sterling’s history of violence against women will simply be forgotten as his career progresses, in the same way that the crimes of Kobe Bryant or Jason Kidd have faded from view. This is not a good thing -- the fact that these stars are also abusers should be a part of the conversation we have about them.

But this is the bargain we make with ourselves, for better or mostly for worse. We will continue to watch and talk and care about Raheem Sterling, who is an awful person that also happens to be a wondrously gifted footballer playing for one of the most prominent clubs in the world. We will enjoy watching him play. The question is how much we let ourselves forget.

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"but also there is no age before which it’s somehow okay to assault women"... So is there an age when it is ok to assault men? Or a time when its ok for a woman to smack a man in the face in public as we see on TV and film on a daily basis? I grow so weary of the endless mining of sports for whatever can be found to open up the millionth conversation about some hot grad student topic of the day. Now lets use EPL to get into domestic violence, yippee. It seems that the author has convicted Sterling already, he is sure he is an "abuser", the fact that the State did not find him guilty of such crimes is simply evidence that the state is corrupt and an "Abuser of women" in and of itself. This poor conclusion, made with no real facts, is made with the confidence and child-like belief that comes from the fully indoctrinated 21st century "educated" young person. The accepted ideology is "men are bad, women are abused, society is racist etc etc etc"... And full belief in that narrative means evidence and convictions are less important than the progress of that narrative itself.

As far as Sterling on the pitch, he has been an occasionally stupendous forward player. But lets not get ahead of ourselves , he has shown raw speed and dynamic abilities towards goal but he hasn't played with consistency or shown a keen eye for ball movement. He definitely has his place set on the England squad and maybe him, Barkley, and Hart will lead The Three Lions to a World Cup... Hahahahaha, and Maybe Wayne Rooney will wake up tomorrow with a head of thick lustrous hair. Sterling will most surely fizzle in the next few years after a move to Spain, where raw pace is less important and his tactical deficiencies are laid bare... his raw speed and skill but a memory.