Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bad men can be great sportsmen

I'm reading Beyond A Boundary by CLR James, which is about growing up in Trinidad in the early part of the 20th century. His passion is cricket. He talks about a local called Matthew Bondman.
He was a young man already when I first remember him, medium height and size, and an awful character. He was generally dirty. He would not work. His eyes were fierce, his language was violent and his voice was loud. His lips curled back naturally and he intensified it by an almost perpetual snarl. My grandmother and my aunts detested him. But that is not why I remember Matthew. For ne'er-do-well, in fact vicious character that he was, Matthew had one saving grace--Matthew could bat. More than that, Matthew, so crude and vulgar in every aspect of his life, with a bat in his hand was all grace and style.

It's funny reading this in the same week the papers are full of the chaotic lives of prominent sportsmen. CLR James could cope with the idea of a man who was hopeless in every respect but one - happening to be a great athlete. We on the other hand, being softer and more superstitious, seem to believe that any man who has shown a great sporting talent should be at the very least capable when it comes to daily life, as if genius in one respect ought to spill over into bare competence elsewhere. Journalists, biographers, chat-show hosts and voice-over artists try to persuade us that virtue follows talent around. There's lots of evidence that it doesn't.


  1. I remember when the sport of the day amongst lazy comedians was lampooning David Beckham for his supposed stupidity. Yet he's the best in the world at something, while most of us are best in the world at nothing. So what right have people to demand a great intellect of him to accompany his footballing talent? One could even argue that the focus required to reach world-class level in a pursuit actually necessities neglecting other areas of one's development.

  2. True. And Beckham conducts himself in public with dignity and, despite being immensely rich and one of the best known sporting faces on the planet, a certain amount of humility. He seems conscious of his position and seems to want to use his fame in ways that will benefit others as well. He's also far more articulate these days, obviously that's come with maturity and probably a lot of media training.

  3. I always thought that the lampooning of Beckham was a by-product of the absolutely remorseless media saturation people had to endure from the mid-90's onward.

    When people you are dis-interested in are constantly shoved in your face (he certainly was, and to an extent still is, although his star is on the wane) you tend to bite back, and in this case it manifests itself in taking the Michael out of his "lesser" character traits.