The Last Word: Pity the stars suffering in silence
Trescothick is not the only one in the dark and we must accept that depression is a part of life and sport
Sunday 18 October 2009
Marcus Trescothick is not the role model for sportsmen or sportswomen who suffer from depression. He neither wants to be nor should be. Trescothick is just a bloke who suffers from depression. End of.
There are loads of us, you know; in each and every walk of life. From those who hold up a lollipop for a living, to those who have been known to raise a piece of willow or two. As Trescothick has pointed out so many times, "depression is indiscriminate". It does not care how many runs you score, how much money you earn, how famous you are, or even how stressful your life is perceived to be.
Sport has nothing to do with depression – and the sooner it realises this, the better. For Trescothick and for all the other stars who may be suffering in silence, believing these awful feelings to be part and parcel of the pressures of being a top sportsman. They will believe this because that is what they are told, or at the very least what is suggested. Even in the case of Trescothick and his latest withdrawal from an overseas tour.
Semantics are probably as much to blame as any "macho" concerns. The word "stress" has an everyday usage and a medical usage and, in practice, the two are not only distinct but actually work against each other. Here's how it goes.
Trescothick flew home from India last week with a "stress-related disease" and the ensuing knee-jerkery led to media outlets asking sports stars – ideally, his former team-mates – for their views. After all, they have experienced the "unique pressures" placed on our sporting heroes and are thus qualified to comment.
But are they? Aren't they, in fact, the worst qualified to comment, having lived the life and, in their eyes anyway, having survived the strife? On Friday, one former footballer, speaking on one sports channel, opined: "It's especially tougher on cricketers as they are away for months at a time. No one likes being away from their loved ones. Obviously Trescothick suffers very badly in this regard."
The inference was that the Somerset batsman was plagued by some intense form of homesickness. The same overture accompanied each and every report. Of course, the descriptions of Trescothick's condition had to be pithy because of space constraints. But in all the shallowness, the insult of him somehow being "weaker" was inevitably cast. If you want to understand the triggers and the chain of events which characterise the Trescothick spiral, you only need read his autobiography, Coming Back To Me.
When it was published last year the majority of the reviewers predictably sought to apply one man's story to the ever so "stressful" sporting world at large. They noted Trescothick's advice that "this isn't a self-help book" but ventured his hopes that (1) this would encourage others in the same position to seek help and (2) this would help sport understand depression.
We have no way of knowing whether the first came to fruition; we can only pray it did and that they, too, were illuminated to the fact that their job is not to blame. Alas, there is plenty of evidence that, when it comes to depression in sports stars, ignorance still reigns; even in all those tributes which erroneously call him "brave". Trescothick felt he didn't have a choice but to try to travel.
So how should a sport deal with depression? Simply, by treating it as any form of illness or – even though it is, of course, different – any form of injury. The fear of the reaction is part of the cycle of despair and I'm not talking about the wicked taunts from opposing fans or all that mythical lads' talk in all those mythical pubs, or of the "he should snap out of it" whispers in his own dressing room.
It's the fear of all the sympathy, of all the fuss, of being looked upon, in whatever guise and with whatever well-wishes, as a victim. Essentially, it's the fear of ignorance and of having to explain yourself, explain something that you, yourself, are still struggling to understand. With depression, acceptance truly is the brunt of the battle.
Maybe the day will come when a withdrawal with a "stress-related illness" will be greeted by that beautiful shrug of acceptance. Maybe one day in the "team news" section of the newspapers it will one day say "Missing: Giggs (hamstring), Anelka (groin), Bloggs (depression)". Sport, and its chroniclers, would actually be helping its sufferers then.
Why can't wonder horse be a father and a winner?
One has to feel for those racing enthusiasts whose interest in the sport transcends the identity of a nag on a piece of crumpled paper in quivering hands. The poor diehards wait all their life for a wonder horse and when one finally turns up, he is retired within nine "Go on, my sons..."
It was no shock when the news came that Sea The Stars was to be sent to stud. A figure of £100m was mentioned, which means an awful lot of money shots to be risked if the bay ran in the Breeders' Cup, or even as a four-year-old. But that doesn't make it any less of a shame.
Isn't there any way this animal could be allowed to become a prolific father as well as remain a prolific winner? Well, seeing as Sea The Stars would be required to cover mares on a daily basis for five months, it would be beyond even his already mythical powers.
Yet there is one solution, although "artificial insemination" is clearly an emotive topic. Experts insist the gene pool would be compromised if the ban was lifted and even talk of the ruination of the thoroughbred breeding industry. Jobs would be lost and abuse would reign, they say. But surely these concerns could be addressed if the controls were set and, more importantly, regulated properly?
It is a complex subject and I won't take an uninformed standpoint. I'll only venture the opinion that the great shame of Sea The Stars should mean, at the very least, the debate be entered. And one aspect of AI will not be doubted by any layman who has had the misfortune to witness the brutal scene of a stallion going about his business: the mares wouldn't object.
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