Don’t be sad, man, if Bradman was a bad man
When Phar Lap wasn’t busy winning Melbourne Cups and single-handedly feeding Australians during the 1930s depression, rumour has it the big-hearted chestnut once kicked hay in the face of strapper Tommy Woodcock.
That’s not to denigrate a legend, but to point out that the more oustanding the sporting superstar, the more likely they will have some kind of personality defect.
Overnight, journalist Ben Dorries broke the excellent story that players in the 1970s didn’t get along with Don Bradman, the cricket legend turned administrator widely regarded as the world’s greatest ever batsman. In fact, half the reason Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket was so successful was because of anti-Bradman sentiment.
I never met Bradman, but I know several journalists and others who did, and many of them came away singularly unimpressed with the man. Again, that’s not to kick the proverbial hay in his face. Bradman was for the most part a deeply private man, who by most accounts spent as much time worrying whether he upset others as he did pondering the wounded egos of English bowlers.
In this respect, he can probably be classified as somewhere between dignified and a little abrupt. You decide. Either way, it’s who he was.
The interesting thing is, the more you look at the absolute top bracket athletes in any sport, or indeed the truly elite performers in any field, the more you see they all tend to have serious character flaws. From this, you can conclude one of two things.
Either a) they expended so much energy and time getting to the top that they simply didn’t have time to iron out some of their personality kinks along the way, or b) the success gene is an inherently flawed gene.
You might also throw in c) both of the above.
Believe me, I am never comfortable saying I have met this famous person or that famous person because it can come across as gratuitous self-aggrandisement. I’ll break that rule today and say I have spent time in a room with Shane Warne, Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Lance Armstrong and a host of other out-and-out sporting superstars over the years.
I met these people in the course of my work as a journalist, so again, let me say that I am not trying to seem important by association.
I merely list these names to say that each of these people are in their own way deeply flawed characters, and I think it’s no coincidence they were so bloody brilliant at what they did yet so imperfect as human beings.
All of us, of course, are a long way from perfect in our own special, quirky little screwed-up way.
But I think you can add a little emphasis to the word imperfect with sporting greats. Quite simply, brilliance in a field seems to sap people of some of the social nuance needed to get along in the world without pissing people off, or without making a goofball of yourself in one way or other.
Bradman was a religious man but was no saint. Who’s surprised? Not me. Who’s disappointed? Not me either.
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