Cristiano Ronaldo, Coca-Cola and the self esteem epidemic

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Renowned international footballer and Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo caused quite the stir during a Euro 2020 pre-match press conference on Monday when he did the unthinkable; he moved two Coca Cola bottles.

Ahead of Portugal’s meeting with Hungary, the Juventus player calmly took his spot at the podium for the Euro press conference before moving the coke bottles, placed there by Coca Cola, an official sponsor of the tournament, and instead held up a bottle of water and exclaiming “agua,” which means “water” in Portuguese.

Some have called Ronaldo’s gesture a publicity stunt, while others hailed the virtue signal which many have linked to the footballer’s incredible physique and fitness. At 36, an age when most footballers call time on their career, Ronaldo has just come off the back of winning the Italian national league’s award for most goals during the season—the Serie A’s Capocannoniere, or golden boot. Indeed, criticism of Ronaldo’s decision to move the sugary drinks was subsequently hushed as the star striker went on to score two goals against Hungary, breaking the record for goals scored by an individual player at the Euro tournament.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Coca-Cola, however, were less than pleased. The stunt coincided with a 1.6 per cent drop in the company’s share price on the stock market after the incident, which translates to a $US4 billion drop in Coca-Cola’s market value. According to DailyMail, two separate statements by organising body UEFA have insisted that “everyone is entitled to their drink preferences”, and everyone “has tastes and needs.” Some have hailed the incident as an end to product placement in sport. Others have labelled the Portugal’s Euro opener “hypocrite” after he appeared in a 2006 television advertisement promoting the carbonated soft drink for an undisclosed sum.

Other players have also followed suit, with Manchester United star Paul Pogba moving a Heineken bottle during a press conference after France’s 1-0 victory over Germany. Many attributed his action to his Islamic faith, which discourages drinking alcohol. Interestingly, the Heineken drink he moved was a non-alcoholic variant, and Pogba also left two bottles of Coca-Cola standing in front of him—something which those invested in the company’s market value may have been relieved about.

There’s a reason why a man moving two bottles of drink can lose a company $US4 billion—because we’ve given celebrities in our society a place of influence and power. Snubbing sugary soft drinks in favour of water has the power to inspire millions around the globe—those who admire him or aspire to match his achievements—to do the same.

Photo by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash

Sports stars are highly sought after by sponsors; they are followed by legions of devoted fans who are influenced into believing that their every endorsement has value. Sometimes this enterprise alone can make significant bank for athletes. At the twilight of David Beckham’s career in 2013, the PSG player was ranked #19 on Forbes 100 list for celebrity earnings. Out of his $US47 million earnt that year, $US42 million came from commercial endorsements for the likes of Adidas, H&M, Samsung and more.

The reason these deals are worth so much in monetary value is because they send a subconscious message—if this product helps the athlete reach the pinnacle of their game, maybe it can help me reach mine too?

It’s human nature to draw this connection. During our lifelong quest to maximise our potential, we frequently compare ourselves to others and the actions they take to achieve their goals. A report by Psychology Today has claimed this is exacerbated by social media, which it calls “a turbo-charged, precision instrument for social comparison unlike anything in human history”. Signs of the Times author Grace Thomas adds to this thought in her article “Comparison: the thief of joy”, attributing the appearance of the comparison “epidemic” to the Christian teaching that there exists an adversary of God—Satan—who clandestinely works to undermine every human on the planet. She writes, “we live in a world, a place where the devil . . . heightens our insecurities and makes us all doubt ourselves. He uses advertisements, other people, television and social media to make us feel inadequate.”

Satan’s game plan involves these manipulative schemes to try and distract humankind from a higher calling. The Bible describes Satan as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), prowling “around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), attempting to “deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). The more we are tempted to add value to celebrities and their behaviour, the more obsessive and distracted we can become from realising our own value.

Our fixation on celebrity culture and how they bring meaning to our lives contribute to how we can often forget our own self-worth. This, along with a variety of other factors like upbringing and social environment is often linked with unhealthy behaviour. Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine found 40 per cent of seventh-grade female students considered to have a “low self-esteem” had premarital underage sex by ninth grade; more than double that of girls with a high self-esteem. A 2005 study in Psychological Science also concluded a “robust relation between low self-esteem and externalising problems” with behaviour such as “aggression, antisocial behaviour and delinquency.”

Our complex 21st century society isn’t the first to be confronted with self-doubt. Satan employed the tactic against God himself, Jesus Christ, shortly after he was baptised and had gone into the wilderness to fast. These included:

  1. Preying on Jesus’ hunger—“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3).

2. Doubting and undermining His authority—“I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to” (Luke 4:6).

3. Doubting God’s ability to protect—““If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down there. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully” (Luke 4:9,10).

While every person on the planet is confronted with their own self-doubt, Jesus understands this experience and makes numerous promises throughout the Bible that He will not leave those who seek Him in moments of trial. He describes the value that every human on the planet has to Him—“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than any sparrows” (Luke 12:7). He reiterates his care for humankind too: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed” (Isaiah 54:10).

The self-worth epidemic is a daily struggle, whether it be subconsciously comparing oneself with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba, or through our home and schooling environments. Jesus Christ went through all of that during His time on earth and understands the feeling of doubt. When God promises you and I that our worth is vast beyond comprehension, that’s something worth believing.

Daniel Kuberek is assistant editor for Signs of the Times magazine. Unfortunately, his personal soccer career yielded zero trophies, a dislocated finger and a wounded ego.

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