Words from the Wise

Not the 'Best' reflection on society

If you are a sports fan, you couldn't help but be saddened by the passing last week of George Best, 59, due to multiple organ failure. He was famous for his exploits off the pitch and on it he was a marvel. He helped Manchester United win the 1968 European Cup with a 4-1 defeat of Benfica. He also was part of the 1965 and 1967 teams which captured League Championships. Off the field he was the ultimate playboy and even dubbed the "Fifth Beatle," with his movie star looks and legendary womanizing. He summed it up best when he said, "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." Best was the tabloids' dream in that he dominated both the front and back pages of the paper. Sadly, something had to give at the end of it all, and that was his liver. Comparisons could be drawn with NY Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, whose drinking contributed to his death at the age of 63 in 1995; or with Bjorn Borg who retired from professional tennis at the age of 26, similar to Best's walking away from Manchester United at the age of 27. What does the sports fan make of all of this? What feelings are engendered when reflecting back on this tortured genius who clearly had so much more to offer. Just because someone is a natural at kicking a ball or hitting one doesn't mean his life is devoid of problems. In fact, the opposite is more often the case, as he can be hassled night and day. It forces him simply to want to get away from it all. In some regards, what happens to these champion sportsmen is more a reflection of society than them. The Beatles didn't stop performing concerts because they wanted to but because the behavior of the crowds was totally unacceptable and becoming out of control. Society tends to idolize top talent and treat stars like dieties. Millions of dollars are thrown their way and mob scenes are often the result when they go out in public. We force big names into a cocoon. Some players, such as Tiger Woods, who have their heads screwed on right and a tight-knit support team, are be able to overcome all the hysteria. Others such as Paul Gascoigne and Shane Warne were and are not as successful. They say there is a very fine line between being a genius and a madman - and sports stars can have a difficult time not crossing that line - but there is more to it than that. On the field they can do no wrong and have total control over everything that happens. It feels like immortality. Off the field they sometimes forget they don't have the same super powers. Ultimately, they have to abide by the same laws and rules of morality as everyone else; but they are required to do so despite what can be a troubling lack of privacy. There are those who say that top sportsmen are role models and have to act accordingly. I am not sure how much merit there is in this. Being a popular public figure means always being fair game for the press and paparazzi. And stars are going to attract their fair share of shady characters who are after them because of their stature or fortune. Just because a person is a well-known athlete, why should he be any more accountable for his actions than you or I? It appears as though society and the media have made this decision for them. In the 1950s and 60s players were given more latitude by the media and a lot of what happened away from the game went unreported. These days you have to be very, very careful as David Beckham, Kobe Bryant and Lawrence Dallaglio will tell you. But back to George. He was one of a kind whose likes will most likely never been seen again. They say only the good die young; well, he was one of the best. dwisemanaway@hotmail.com