Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Thinking out loud


DEATH BY SHOOTING: In this March 1, 1997 file photo, Hector "Macho" Camacho exults as referee Joe Cortez stops the fight with "Sugar" Ray Leonard in the fifth round, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA. Camacho, a boxer known for skill and flamboyance in the ring, as well as for a messy personal life and run-ins with the police, died on Saturday after being taken off life support. He was 50. —Photo: AP

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Hello there. I'm sure you would agree that the human being is wonderfully made up. In a way unique to sports, this is made clear to me with every week that passes.

Last weekend, I was up late, late and caught Kevin Pietersen getting 183 in the second Test against India. In particular I remember him using his great height to stretch down to the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and with the ball turning away from him, just helping it over the midwicket region. The clean execution of the shot despite the technical risks was top notch; but the confidence he had to go for the audacious—to hit the ball into the open space despite the danger was equally impressive. It was exciting but calculated cricket by Pietersen.

In Adelaide, Australia, South African debutant Faf du Plessis, dehydrated as he was, never lagged in mental fortitude as he batted nearly eight hours for his first Test century to save the match. The fellow took pressure fuh so.

Tino Best however, does not play his cricket quite the same way. More a man of the earth, reliant on emotion to drive his physical skills; he demonstrated in Khulna, Bangladesh the resilience of mankind. Bowling with a damaged hamstring, Tino bettered his best from the previous match when he got five wickets for the first time; to take six in the second innings.

Operating at a controlled pace, he harnessed length and direction beautifully to hit the stumps of Tamim Iqbal, Naeem Islam, Nasir Hossain and Sohag Gazi, and aimed the bouncer precisely to shift the unenthusiastic recipient, Shahriar Nafees.

Believe it or not though, this piece is not about cricket. To borrow from David Rudder, this thing goes beyond the boundary. It is just that these recent examples make the point about how sport can illustrate human excellence. But it is also because of the theatre it produces, that sport also shows mankind's other side.

The past week also offered up ready examples. For instance, in the sad case of ex-boxing champ Hector "Macho" Camacho's death by shooting, it was recounted that: "Camacho battled drug, alcohol and other problems throughout his life. He was sentenced in 2007 to seven years in prison on burglary charges, but a judge eventually suspended all but one year of the sentence and gave Camacho probation. He wound up serving two weeks in jail after violating that probation. A wife also filed domestic abuse complaints against him twice before their divorce."

Then there was the trial of Brazilian Bruno Fernandes, the former quite popular Flamengo goalkeeper, who is now fighting a murder charge for the brutal killing of an ex-girlfirend.

The details include the fact that: "Besides Fernandes, those charged with Eliza Samudio's kidnapping, murder and the hiding of her body include Dayanne Rodrigues, Fernandes' wife, Fernanda Castro, a lover, Luiz Romao, the soccer player's former right-hand man, and a former police officer."

Over in England, the teenaged Jamaican-born Liverpool hot-shot winger Raheem Sterling had a visit from the police because of a complaint of assault by a woman.

Since I'm going beyond the boundary here, I ask the question: Would these men have ended up in such predicaments had they not been successful professional athletes?

I shake my head sometimes when there is talk of what a saviour sport can be for the youth.

In principle, healthy physical activity can do much good for body and mind. And as seen earlier, there is beauty and inspiration to be found in athletic contests. But I ask again; would Hector Camacho have got himself in drug and legal trouble had it not been for the access lots of money gave him to everything?

And should he be found guilty of the crime, could the fame and celebrity Bruno attained in Brazil have emboldened him and those around him to commit an act way beyond the law?

In addition, these altercations so many professional footballers have with women in nightclubs and with driving too fast and drinking too much; would there have been so many of these cases if it was not for the big money and the feeling of entitlement that seems to afflict athletes in the public domain? I think not.

As if to make the point, I stumbled for a second night upon a fascinating ESPN documentary in its 30 For 30 series called "Broke".

In short, it tells the tale of scores of professional athletes in the United States—NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball superstars—now bankrupt or fighting back from the brink. It was startling to hear that, according to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement, and by the time they have been retired for two years, 78 per cent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress.

A summary of the programme also stated this: "Sucked into bad investments, stalked by freeloaders, saddled with medical problems, and naturally prone to showing off, many pro athletes get shocked by harsh economic realities after years of living the high life."

There was plenty honest talk in this show from men who lived the life.

Here is a sample of what they had to say about agents, retirement, injury, women and family:

"The biggest sharks in the hood—the drug dealers and the gang bangers—you ain't seen nothing till you step into some of these white collar criminals...There's guys out there just trusting the wrong people and you get bit...."

"Family and friends, they stick it to you more than anybody. People that you've known all your life all of a sudden can't function without you..."

"A hundred per cent of the money I loaned, I didn't get one cent back..."

"Ballers are groupies too. They'll have their entourage go find women and bring them to the VIP. It's almost like if you're watching Animal Planet."

"There are women out there that are looking to either become pregnant or marry an athlete just because of their financial status."

"I thought I was pretty invincible. I thought I was gonna play 14, 15 years....then the injuries started...."

"Suddenly, not only do you have to worry about outliving your money, but you have to worry about the health care costs associated with the type of injuries you might sustain."

While these are the experiences of American sportsmen, I am sure there are those in T&T with some similar stories. Of course not everyone gets burned badly. But because pro sports is such a jealous mistress, something in man's life will suffer, if it is not his career.

What struck me most about "Broke" was that the financial trouble these stars experienced was caused by the bad company; big egos and poor life choices encouraged by their very fame and fortune.

Take idealism out of it, the facts seem to suggest that sporting success creates more problems for an individual than it solves.

Food for thought don't you think?