"The best way to predict your future is to create it." Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln High School Statesman

"The best way to predict your future is to create it." Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln High School Statesman

"The best way to predict your future is to create it." Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln High School Statesman

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Sportsmen or celebrities?

Cristiano+Ronaldo+sits+at+623+Million+Instagram+followers%2C+and+Lionel+Messi+sits+at+500+million%2C+making+these+two+the+most+followed+accounts+on+Instagram.
Ryan Calhoun
Cristiano Ronaldo sits at 623 Million Instagram followers, and Lionel Messi sits at 500 million, making these two the most followed accounts on Instagram.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the first and second most followed individuals on Instagram respectively, the latter just having reached the 500 million benchmark on Feb.27. The unfathomable followings amassed by these athletes are deserved and understandable in the context of their accomplishments, the pair having been awarded 13 ballon d’ors between them. That said, the popularity they have gained through their global dominance in the sporting world has had a clear effect on the world itself.

In the early parts of their careers, Messi and Ronaldo had undeniable fame, but fame that was generally contained within the world of sports. In recent years, however, social media presence has become more and more of an important aspect of any athlete’s image. With their status as the two most influential athletes of this generation, social media provides a spotlight for Messi and Ronaldo, and one that can have both positive and negative effects. Athletes are praised and glorified on social media when performing well but abused when struggling, some even pressured into issuing formal apologies for their human errors. When it comes to outside factors impacting sports performance, though, Instagram is only the tip of the iceberg.

When Messi’s contract at French club Paris Saint-Germain expired in June of 2023, he faced a difficult decision. With the years remaining in his illustrious career waning quickly, he had several options regarding his next professional move. Instead of following his rival Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia and competing for a record wage, or returning to his beloved fans in Barcelona, Messi made the bold choice to sign for Major League Soccer club Inter Miami.

Spearheaded by owner David Beckham, Inter Miami is an American soccer team based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Established in 2018, it is one of the newest teams in the global soccer scene. While the prospect of competing for unfamiliar trophies in an unfamiliar league was undoubtedly a pull factor for the Argentine superstar, others were undeniable. With his Inter Miami contract, Messi receives compensation for every Apple TV subscription sold during his time of service to the club, Apple TV being the exclusive broadcaster of MLS matches. He also, of course, gets to experience the Miami lifestyle, basking in the Florida sunshine and partying in the vibrant city scene once the light fades. While the lifestyle change is a positive one for Messi himself, it perpetuates the stereotype that the MLS is a “retirement league;” a stereotype the league has been working hard to shake.

It is not only off the field where the superstar’s presence takes effect, either. Since Messi’s arrival and the subsequent arrivals of his former FC Barcelona teammates Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, many changes have been made to the Inter Miami matchday squad. Young players have been denied opportunities, Argentine manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino favoring the established talents despite their dwindling work rates.

Outside of Miami, other MLS teams are feeling the impact of Messi’s move to the United States. Sporting Kansas City, for example, have seen their April 13 match moved away from their home stadium, Children’s Mercy Park, to Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, a decision made to accommodate fans from across the Midwest excited to watch Messi play. While the move promises financial benefits for Sporting KC, it also decreases the likelihood of their victory, their players subject to a new atmosphere made up mostly of traveling fans.

Messi has scored four goals in his first nine MLS appearances for Inter Miami. His 82.5% passing success rate, as reported by MLS Soccer, puts him 186th out of all MLS players who have started at least one game this season. Optimists attribute this lackluster performance to unfamiliar surroundings, but many others reason that high-level athletes like Messi are becoming more and more complacent as their paychecks increase and as they age. As of now, Messi has no incentive to perform. Martino will continue to include him in the starting lineup to appeal to fans who have spent a fortune to see him, opposition teams will continue to cater to him to capitalize on financial opportunities, and Miami will continue to bring everything it has to offer.

In the day and age of social media, athletes like Messi and Ronaldo have become less competitors and more spectacles. At times it seems they are doing less and less to stay relevant in the sporting world, and somehow becoming more and more idolized. They are getting used to playing the media’s games and the corporations’ games, giving in to lavish lifestyles at the expense of their true passions. With their storied careers coming to a close, it would be wonderful to see them play the games they made us fall in love with instead.

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About the Contributor
Ryan Calhoun
Ryan Calhoun, Staff Writer
Ryan Calhoun is a senior and first-year staff writer for the Statesman. In his free time, Calhoun plays soccer with the LHS varsity team in the fall and bowls with the LHS varsity team in the winter. He also considers himself a professional pickleball star by day and a fast food connoisseur by night. When he is not busy with these important obligations, Calhoun can be found happily hanging out with friends or utterly dejected at Shoe Carnival, where he works.
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