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Knockout

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 3, 2021 - 12:00am

The image keeps repeating in our heads: Manny Pacquiao, leading on points, dove face first straight into his opponent’s powerful punch. That produced a spectacular knockout and nearly ended the Filipino boxer’s career.

That was a moment of utter carelessness. If he had enough patience, and tactical sense, Pacquiao could have jabbed his way to a unanimous decision in his favor. But he threw all caution to the wind and reaped a massive defeat.

The political equivalent of that moment of carelessness happened over the last weekend. After being informed PDP-Laban vice chairman Al Cusi called for the party’s national council to be convened, Pacquiao put out a signed statement calling on members to ignore the meeting. That letter, entirely presumptuous, was unnecessary.

Having been asked by Sen. Koko Pimentel to assume the post of party president in an acting capacity until a proper election could be held, Pacquiao was in no position to ask other party members to defy the call for a meeting. The vast majority of party leaders invited to that meeting, by simply showing up, repudiated Pacquiao’s unwarranted order.

More than that, the Palace announced President Rodrigo Duterte himself asked for that meeting to be convened. Duterte sits as the party’s chairman. When the meeting convened, the President even delivered a video message to the party.

Had Pacquiao restrained himself and desisted from sending out that unfortunate letter, he would have had much more wiggle room to adjust to the changing political terrain. But by trying to build a faction that defies the party leadership, he basically threw his face onto an incoming punch. Pacquiao lost whatever leverage he had to influence party decisions. At this stage of the electoral game, that will have to be called a knockout.

Spokesmen for the PDP-Laban have been trying very hard to play down the repercussions of the national council meeting on Pacquiao’s political standing. They choose instead to emphasize the continuing political alliance between President Duterte and the prizefighter.

The next survey on the electability of potential presidential contenders will give us a clearer idea of what happened to Pacquiao’s standing in the wake of what was really a routine party meeting. If the next survey indicates Pacquiao’s electoral quest to be basically dead in the water, that sad outcome will have to be judged self-inflicted.

The last we heard from Pacquiao is that he is seeking a meeting with President Duterte. This can only indicate a level of desperation. The only purpose such a meeting will serve is to get the President to open a back door for the boxer to return to the party fold.

The outcome of this week’s events could only be humbling for the sports idol. His request for a meeting with the President is an acceptance of the rude political fact that without the ruling party, he has nothing.

Osaka

I follow major tournaments in only two sports: tennis and golf. The former I used to play; the latter still preoccupies me. At the highest caliber, both are primarily tests of mental toughness.

Of all the tournaments, the one I follow most religiously is the French Open. This year’s edition commenced last Sunday and much of the drama happened off-court.

Before this tournament commenced, highly rated Japanese player Naomi Osaka announced she would not be participating in the post-game press conferences required of players, whether they win or lose. She did not appear for her press conference after winning her first round game.

For failing to make an appearance, the French Open fined Osaka $15,000 and threatened to expel her from the tournament. Her mental health being more important, Osaka decided to withdraw from the tournament.

Announcing her withdrawal, the 22-year old openly divulged her bouts with depression. The obligatory press conference was extraordinarily stressful, she said, especially after losing a match.

After the Japanese player courageously discussed the fragile state of her mental health, the French Open quietly removed from the tournament website their earlier tone-deaf letter threatening Osaka with expulsion from the tournament. But that removal was overtaken by events. Major tennis personalities, along with outstanding players from other sports, rallied behind Osaka.

This episode opened the floodgates to a candid discussion about how the sports industry has been so negligent about the mental health of athletes. This discussion has just begun. It comes in the wake of two significant events preceding: Prince Harry’s frank discussion about his own mental health condition and the strong public rejection of an attempt of sports oligarchs to set up a new “super” football league that completely ignored the interests of the teams’ fans.

The global sports industry has long been negligent of the health of athletes. The major tennis players have long complained about how intensively tournaments are scheduled. The merciless schedules expose the athletes to injury. They served only the purpose of investors in the sports industry who are only concerned about producing more content for all the media platforms.

Naomi Osaka’s courageous stance is an invitation for all top caliber athletes to more openly discuss their mental health issues. This is an important discussion, especially in these pandemic-afflicted times.

Mental health is a concern that spills beyond the sporting world. It should be a concern among all communities and workplaces. Processes and procedures will need to be reviewed to take into account their impact on mental health.

Mental health has long been a taboo topic. Because of that, it has been utterly neglected. It is time for a sympathetic discussion of this concern.

MANNY PACQUIAO
Philstar
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