Common theme between Whitney Houston’s sad end and football controversy

The news of the sadly premature passing of singer Whitney Houston and rows about Premier League footballers refusing to shake hands before a match may seem completely unrelated but arguably there is a link: in both cases the agents and managers have failed in their responsibilities.

As USA Today reports, there were rumours about Houston’s drug abuse and other serious personal problems as early as the mid 1990s, although her success continued. In recent years the decline of her health and singing voice were apparent in her public appearances and an attempted comeback in 2009 resulted in disappointment for her fans.

Unfortunately, Whitney Houston joins a lengthy list of entertainers whose excesses have contributed to their own demise. Sportsmen too have suffered the same fate: George Best and Alex Higgins are two examples familiar to British sports fans.

While plenty of people who are not in the public eye also abuse drugs and alcohol or self-destruct in other ways, it does seem to be a more regular occurrence for those whose talent brings stardom and  great wealth at a young age.

The character of young stars is probably the biggest factor determining their level of risk but families and friends can of course play an important role in keeping them under control. However, young stars of sport and entertainment tend to spend a lot of time away from home with their management teams. Sports coaches or managers often become surrogate parents while agents advise on financial matters. Friends are likely to comprise people in the same sport or industry, who are under the same pressures.

The trouble is, the top priority for managers and agents may well be keeping themselves in a job rather than considering the long-term interests of the individual they are working for.

As the Huffington Post and others reported, Whitney Houston’s entourage took up “a fair portion” of the large hotel where she was staying. How many make-up artists and bodyguards does one person need?

The physical demands of sport with constant training and competition probably have a moderating effect on athletes during the competitive careers: plenty drink too much and some may abuse recreational drugs but there’s a limit to what you can get away with if you want to continue performing at the top level.

When it comes to behaviour, however, there is little to restrict star footballers. Club managers tend to earn less money than top players and may well stay for a shorter time at a club than many of their team. It is not in their interests to alienate big players, who are much more popular than them, by telling them that their conduct is unacceptable. Agents fear being fired more than the reputational damage to players in their care.

While real talent is a scarce resource which fans will pay for, those same fans are capable of recognising when bad behaviour is spiralling out of control. If public opinion turns, sponsors and promoters pull out and the money dries up.

The really scarce resource seems to be the supply of agents and managers with natural authority who can give good advice and inspire respect. Now that really would be worth paying for.

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