Many years ago, when I was in school, I had come across the phrase – “fame is like a double-edged sword”. It was only of literal value to me at that time. But as I grew up and got acquainted with the various stories about famous people in the contemporary world, the real meaning of that phrase started to dawn on me.
It must be a great feeling to be a hero in some field, be it in front of a camera on a film set or in a sporting arena playing in front of thousands of cheering fans. But when you are that famous, you tend to become a role model or an idol for many mere mortals, and that is the tricky part because that is where the term ‘responsibility’ comes in. How you carry yourself off the field is what matters in the bigger picture, and I think that separates the ‘greats’ from the ‘legends’.
It is easy to transgress the moral limits – ‘human nature’ some may call it. The sport of Football has had a long history of it’s players crossing the line in off-field altercations with the media and the public, and also wrecking their personal lives due to drug abuse and bigamy. All this at the expense of their professional careers. Diego Maradona is one such ‘great’ player who comes to mind immediately, but there are many others. Cricket too has had it’s fair share of controversies, and Shane Warne’s name is almost synonymous to it. The match-fixing scandal in the late 90’s is another case in the point. Some Indians like Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja had to do away with their careers, but in the case of South African captain Hansie Cronje, it completely obliterated the respect held for him by the Cricket-loving people. In the end it was a miracle that the sport did not loose talented players like Herschelle Gibbs in that storm.
The sport of Golf has been relatively immune to such controversies, but the latest revelations about Tiger Woods’ personal life transgressions proved this to be nothing but fallacy. I must admit that I always looked up to him as an idol for his on-field attitude and he was the last person I expected to have to wash his dirty linen in the public. The world of Tennis too has recently encountered Andre Agassi’s confessions on how he inadvertently consumed performance enhancing drugs during his playing days and later tricked the doping authorities to remain clean.
Does this mean that no person, however legendary he / she may be, can escape stepping on such minefields? I don’t think so. Sachin Tendulkar is one such person whom I can think of who has carried himself amazingly well over his playing career, despite the fact that he is constantly under the media scanner for every move he makes. In fact, apart from his numerous batting records, many contemporary cricketers acknowledge this to be his greatest achievement. I can’t recall fingers being pointed at the personal lives of other cricketing legends like Sir Donald Bradman or Sir Garfield Sobers either. There will surely be similar examples in other sports too. Also, if you observe closely, rarely have such controversies been reported in the early part of the last century (apart from the world of Boxing and Wrestling), only recently have such debates come to the fore.
So does it then come down to the culture surrounding the person or his childhood upbringing? Or is this just part and parcel of life? Big words maybe, and some people may get offended by it, but it’s definitely something to consider.
Diego Maradona (Wikimedia OTRS System)
Hansie Cronje (The Independant, UK)
Tiger Woods (Sports Illustrated – CNN)