Tragedy of the athlete

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Pride is an independent, me-oriented spirit. It makes people arrogant, rude and hard to get along with. When our heart is prideful, we don’t give God the credit and we mistreat people, looking down on them and thinking we deserve what we have.  – Joyce Meyer

It is the constant struggle of the athlete: how to get onto the national team. We see time and again how personality conflicts and miscommunication seriously impact who gets on the roster and who doesn’t, and thus, whether the team has a better chance of winning or not. This is a constant in several sports. What makes it tragic is that the athlete can’t really do anything about it, and very few of us discover what really happened. The general public is left scratching its collective head at the results. This is why this happens.

They act like they own the athletes. The problem with many national sports associations is that they treat the athletes like chattel. They demand that a player suit up, even when the conditions are unfavorable to the athlete. At this level, athletes should get paid, because it is an endangerment to their future. It’s a virtual sword of Damocles. They deserve to get compensated. Furthermore, some officials have the audacity to insist that an athlete play even when he is injured or recovering from injury. The national team is a short-term gig; why risk long-term damage? You’re just feeding somebody’s ego. Also, you can’t have a team without players. So when a sponsor wants a billboard or print ad with the team, who gets paid? In many cases, not the players.

It’s always a rush job. In this age where there are no more full-time national teams, national teams are formed within mere weeks of major competitions. It happens all over the world. Unfortunately, with the exception of the largest events which are usually scheduled during the international summer, some events conflict with the calendars of existing professional leagues. Thus, teams only come together during their vacation time, if they even have one. This is why NBA players have been begging off from representing the US. They have an exhausting schedule as it is. If their teams make the playoffs, they are basically playing basketball non-stop for nine months of the year. Their bodies need a break. But many other countries do not have the luxury of an overabundance of players.

Too many gatekeepers. Have you ever been annoyed about how self-important security guards of exclusive villages are? They act like they own the entire subdivision, when they are only there to man the entrances and exits. And they can keep you out for the most illogical and meaningless reason. Tragically, this is the same situation with national sports associations. There are middling officials, coaches, and friends of the above who have inexplicable influence on the selection of athletes for the national team. The saddest part is that you never know who these people are. You’re being manipulated by ghosts.

Athlete equals fall guy. If an athlete is unavailable for the national team, or opts not to play, he or she is vilified, internally and even publicly.  But nobody ever finds out why. Many times, it’s because they were never offered a fair deal, or were left hanging when a deal was imminent. You would think that they are usually offered the best possible deal. It rarely happens. Yet, when they do not agree to those one-sided terms, they are crucified.

The system could be much better. But in this lifetime, we don’t see that getting any better. At the end of the day, the athlete’s main fulfillment is having dedicated a portion of his or her career to a great cause: wearing the flag.

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