Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Orville Higgins | Money the food and poison of sport

Published:Friday | December 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a former national sportsman. He told me how he had fallen on really hard times. He called me out of the blue and was just pouring his heart out. I listened spellbound for an hour or more.

We got along well when he was on top of his game. He was driven to make more and more millions, but bad financial advice and trusting the wrong people had completely ruined him. He has become a virtual recluse. Once the life of the party, he now hardly leaves home. All is not lost. He remains confident that things may eventually turn around with some investment he had made in his heyday, but legal gymnastics with family is slowing down that process. He is ostracised from people with whom he was once really close. In our long chat, I couldn't help thinking about Timothy 6: 10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil."

His story may be one of the more dramatic ones around, but it is not unique. A large proportion of our star performers on the field of play are going through severe emotional stress as a result of money-related issues. I am sure most of those reading this article can name a few former big names in sports who "woulda box food outa hog mouth"! It is one of the saddest experiences in life to see people who used to be household names now struggling to make ends meet. I know quite a few, and it pains my heart anytime I have to stretch my hand to offer a pittance.

Many Jamaicans are having financial issues, and most of us find it a struggle to cope with the daily requirements of everyday living. That is nothing new, but it is a different dichotomy altogether when you are a 'regular' citizen who is accustomed to the daily grind, than when you were a former great who has fallen on his face.

The issues concerning money and athletes goes wider than the ex-athlete who is now living in relative squalor. Even during their playing days, earning money, in and of itself, can create huge problems.

One West Indies cricketer who had won US$1 million from the Stanford 20/20 series told me that winning that sum was a double-edged sword. He even said he was far happier BEFORE he had won the money. He had to move out of his original community because he was targeted by friends and family who now all wanted to be helped. He had to change his number several times because he couldn't deal with the constant barrage of requests, and that in itself led to further falling-out.

 

MONEY THE ROOT OF EVIL

 

He became paranoid and believed people were constantly out to rob him. He took sometimes-abnormal measures just to ensure he and his immediate family were safe. He had gained a lot of the world, but was losing his own soul and sanity. Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil."

After my talk with the former sportsman, my mind went back to some other tales. I have listened to many stories about how money influenced and destroyed many promising careers. I have heard it all.

Players in local cricket tell me that back in the day, the man with more disposable income would always get the 'bly' over the struggling player if there was a toss-up between the two. Players who could buy the coach things or whose parents could get the coach 'gifts' would stay in the team, even when performances dictate that they don't play. Players, I am told, were promised greater chances of national selection if they allowed themselves to be bribed to play for one club or the other. Things are not always what they seem.

In all of this, the sportsmen and women are not blameless. Jamaica has become very materialistic. 'You are what you own' seems to be the prevailing motto, and, therefore, a lot of these young sports stars go out of their way to flaunt their newly acquired wealth to show that they have arrived. They take on lifestyles they can't afford just to impress. It can be a dangerous things when a poor, struggling youngster starts earning millions in sports. We need to do serious research in how money, or the lack of it, is affecting those who have represented us. Timothy's quote, in sport and other spheres of life, is applicable. "For the love of money ... ."

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.