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“Risking my health for people’s entertainment:” Danny Rose’s reflections amidst the pandemic

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Always a straight talker, Rose’s latest interview gives insight into his history of mental illness and his outlook on the present

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

A little over a week since Danny Rose’s Instagram Live broadcast in which he called the Premier League’s plans to restart “bullshit,” he’s given further commentary on the pandemic, among other things, in a feature on Robert Snodgrass and Kris Boyd’s Lockdown Tactics YouTube series. The series was launched recently and focuses on professional athletes’ experiences with mental health struggles, including Tyson Fury and Darren Fletcher. If you don’t want to watch Danny Rose’s episode, Alasdair Gold has transcribed some of the highlights over at football.london.

As he introduces himself to the podcast (around the 0:50 mark), Rose mentions that he’s “getting ready to hopefully head back to training over the next few days,” striking a decidedly more optimistic tone than he did a week ago. This elicits grins from Boyd and Snodgrass, who begin by asking Danny about the obvious: the responses, positive and negative, to his recent quotes about restarting the league. Danny says that he was unbothered by the media backlash, but that “I was having my breakfast the next day and then I saw Steve Bruce coming up on my phone. So I was like ‘oh no!’” (1:15). Bruce reminded him that he needs to be careful how he words his public statements, and the two talked through the safety measures that would protect footballers in a return to league play.

Recalling his talking-to, Danny rolls his eyes and grins, “Yeah, I know maybe I could have worded what I said a bit better, but. . . six weeks ago [Secretary of State for Health and Social Care] Matt Hancock was saying that footballers need to halve their wages, and then six weeks later, we’re needed to try and entertain people.” It’s good to hear Danny retain his skepticism, and he’s right to point out that footballers have become an easy target for politicians and business leaders looking to pass the buck on the coronavirus response.

The conversation then turns to Danny Rose’s in-depth disclosure of his mental health challenges, which he first discussed in November 2017, but most famously addressed in an interview just before the 2018 World Cup. In that interview, he talked about “getting very angry, very easily. I didn’t want to go into football, I didn’t want to do my rehab, I was snapping when I got home; friends were asking me to do things and I wouldn’t want to go out, and I would come home and go straight to bed.” Now, Kris Boyd asks him to revisit that time and share what’s changed since then (around the 5:30 mark). Rose recalls that in the morning before the Costa Rica game, “The manager mentioned the news had broken [about his depression], and all the staff and the lads offered their support. It was really overwhelming.” Later that day, he remembers, “One of the Costa Rica players pulled me to the side at halftime, and he just said ‘Thank you so much for what you’ve done. You’ve helped me out massively.’ It wasn’t until then where I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve had a chance to help other people for the past year, year and half, and I’ve not used my platform or the voice that I may have to do so.’” Danny sounds as though he takes the responsibilities of his platform very seriously, a fact that is helpful to keep in mind when he makes controversial statements to the media. Although here he was speaking only about his own struggles, his motivation to “help other people” sheds light on other controversial interviews that he’s done over the years: in criticizing his club or the league, he’s not seeking attention, but rather trying to help people by sharing the feelings he is expected to keep private.

At 11 minutes, Boyd brings up Rose’s comments in 2018 that he needed to get away from Tottenham and that working with England manager Gareth Southgate was a kind of salvation for him. “What did Gareth Southgate do with his staff that other managers and staff didn’t do?” he asks. Rose answers:

I wasn’t happy with the environment that I was working in. I was waking up angry and coming into work angry, and that’s not right. That’s not healthy for me; it’s not healthy for other people, more importantly. So I had to get out of that. I have a great relationship with Gareth and the head physio there, and I just spoke to him and asked if I could do some rehab there for a few weeks, and they agreed. I saw Gareth probably every other day, and we spoke. It was just nice to get away, see a fresh face.

It’s interesting to hear him lay out his relationship to Tottenham more clearly here: it wasn’t the case that his injury and off-the-pitch traumas were the only reasons for his mental health problems; going into work every day at Tottenham also contributed. While many of us had already intuited this, Rose confirms that finding some time away from the club was key to the improvement his mental wellbeing.

One of Rose’s most striking quotes over the years was his 2019 remark that he “can’t wait to see the back of football.” At 16:30, Snodgrass asks if, in light of the pandemic that has temporarily suspended the game, Rose still feels that way, or whether the comment was the result of a bad mental state. He replies:

I would say a bit of both. . . With the things that are happening now, I know people are going through this coronavirus pandemic a lot worse than me, so I don’t want to be here complaining about anything. But just off the fact that people are suggesting that we should go back to football, basically like we’re guinea pigs or lab rats, and we’re going to experiment this phase and see if it works or not. . . I could be potentially risking my health for people’s entertainment, and that’s just not something that I want to be involved in, if I’m honest with you.

He’s spot on, and the tone of his remarks strikes me as exceptionally compassionate and self-aware. The coronavirus pandemic, and the expectations on players to return if the league resumes play, has shed light on the potentially exploitative relationships between players and clubs, which Rose describes well here. Yet he also recognizes that he has a great deal of fortune relative to others, both essential workers and hard-hit communities, whose choices in the pandemic have been limited.

There are other interesting moments in the interview, which is worth watching in its entirety, as well as others in the Lockdown Tactics series. From the remarks discussed here, it seems that Danny is in a positive mental state and is thinking about how to use his power as a professional athlete to help with the pandemic in a responsible manner, which is great news for all of us who are fans of his straight-talking public self.