THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2020 - 12:00am

This writer turns 55 tomorrow. For many people, that may not be a big deal. But for me, the turbulence of the last year only underscored how urgent things are, and how precious moments are. The new decade brings new realizations, new sports to learn,  new athletes to marvel at, new ground to clear. And another chance at reinvention. What a ride 2019 was.

On March 11, 2019, the last episode of our television program “Hardball” aired. ABS-CBN News Channel decided to cancel it and, since they hadn’t given us our contracts yet, were easily able to do so. It was akin to feeling a child breathed his last. Initially aired in 2006 at 10:30 p.m. as a daily sports magazine program, it soon climbed the ratings and became a habit. Despite constantly changing time slots, Hardball broke stories, uncovered corruption, got a fee sports officials fired, and protected athletes. In 13 years, its replay once topped the ratings on Studio 23. In its last three full years, the show won three successive Gawad Tanglaw Awards for Best Sports Show. It was mandatory therapy to have a good laugh every week with my good buddy Boyet Sison. We did our own research, had our own opinions, and stood firm on our principles. With the show’s departure, we joke that we have had to find real work. Indirectly, reminded us of the backward and shallow nature of Philippine television. In other countries, experience – not looks – is given value. Here, good looks are expected to mask immaturity and inexperience. So be it. 

Meanwhile, I was blessed with another dream, a sports book. I had drafted one in 2011, but it was aborted. I contributed to a tome on the history of Philippine football, but wanted a baby of my own. Thankfully, The Philippine Yearbook gave me the honor of co-writing one with fellow The STAR columnist Quinito Henson. “The Fifty Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time” is now available for order, and will be in bookstores soon. It was a return to my roots as a sports correspondent, interviewing and photographing some of my favorite people. My share of the list had Donnie Nietes, Efren Reyes, Jet Dionisio, Alvin Patrimonio, Lydia de Vega, Eduard Folayang, Elma Muros, Akiko Thomson and several others, all of whom are genuine, real people whom success has not affected at all. The pictorials with the incomparable Joel Garcia were a refreshing experience, regardless of the sweat, dust, travel and fatigue.

Towards the end of the year, this writer got heat from an exposed cauldron, figuratively. Our exposés on unjustifiable expenses for the 30th Southeast Asian Games caused a stir all the way into the higher reaches of government. It even spawned ridiculous fake online news that this writer was “banned from the opening ceremonies,“ an oxymoron if there ever was one. Rest assured, even when COA starts digging through the SEA Games books next week, the exposés will continue. It’s nothing personal; just doing our job. That’s all. 

Your perspective changes when you know you’re closer to the finish line than you are to the start. It gives you clarity and resignation. You try to minimize conflict and increase cooperation. But you also know that people have a choice to walk away from you, and when they decide to, there’s really nothing you can do but bless them, thank them for the time together. You realize that relationships change, it takes an awful lot for teams of people to stay together, and your value changes over time.

I’ve accepted that growth also means letting go. My two sons have their own lives, and I am proud beyond words. Vincent is now a successful sports broadcaster and trainer on his own. Daniel is carving out a new life for himself in Australia. Both are showing courage I didn’t have at that age. They’re using the drive and discipline they picked up from a life in sports to the hilt. But it means no more shared birthdays, Sundays, Father’s Days. It was heartbreaking, but that is life. I feel like I went from best friend to fire extinguisher. Then again, it makes my time with my little girl Alex all the more precious. Truth be told, I’m counting the days until she runs away from hugging Dad towards a sport she falls in love with. Right now, swimming looks like the contender.

I’ve also learned that extremes of emotion, particularly negative ones, are not worth the strain. I wish I could communicate this more strongly to the athletes I’ve seen who have self-destructed or walked away in frustration when the world seems to beat them down. It isn’t worth the strain. Whatever churns you up inside is in your head, and you are God in there. You can alter your reality and make things work for you. And as I always say, you can always get upset later, after you have more facts. But choosing not to freak out at first blush saves so much emotional damage.

In 2019, I reconciled myself with losses, dropped negative people, deepened my real friendships, blessed loved ones who’ve grown on their own path, and faced not being on TV for only the second time since 1986. I’ve embraced who I am, written a book, rededicated myself to my offspring, and unleashed my inner Batman. It was incomparably painful yet healing, scary but reassuring, destructive and renewing. New projects and opportunities are waiting. 

God bless what comes next.

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