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Durban – One of Marcus Aurelius’s key appointments during his reign over the Roman Empire was the man who walked beside him whenever he walked the streets, receiving the adulation of the people.
The man’s job was simple, he just had to whisper, “You’re just a man, just a man,” to his emperor, while thousands chanted his name and kissed the ground he walked on.
That approach to adulation has long disappeared from society, and the seemingly relentless fall from grace of international sports stars should serve as a reminder that the hype should be tempered.
Their feats may astound us, but they are still “just men”. Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and now, Oscar Pistorius, all built their names on compelling stories. Woods, the multi-cultural (Cablasian, he dubs it) phenom who whipped the white boys at their own game and made golf cool for kids around the planet.
Armstrong, the freak of nature who deceived the entire world into believing that he had defied cancer and the mountains of Europe to do what no other rider had done.
And then there was Pistorius, who probably overcame the longest odds, as the double amputee who became a global superstar, the face of the 2012 Olympics, alongside giants like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and, well, Bert le Clos.
Somewhere during their individual ascents to the top of their worlds, the media and the masses elevated these three – and others like them – to demi-god status. Whispers of their unsavoury side – Woods’s indiscretions, Armstrong’s web of lies, and Pistorius’s seemingly controlling and intimidating streak – were beaten down with threats of legal action, or a sweetener, like an exclusive story, or even a simple cheque.
Their agents and lawyers, desperate for their cut, made miracles happen in the background to keep the gravy train on the rails. After all, why should a few whispers get in the way of history – and millions – in the making?
And that is as much part of the problem. When men from middle-class backgrounds suddenly realise that they can get away with more than the man on the street, it starts a vicious cycle that often ends in tragedy.
It empowers these athletes, and emboldens them to the point where Woods could put a sports magazine in financial ruin by blanking them, where Armstrong could threaten to end the career of a rider who didn’t toe the drug-line, and where Pistorius can physically threaten a man, and insist that bystanders at an accident can’t take his picture because “I am Oscar Pistorius”.
Inevitably, they believe their own hype and seemingly assume that they can make their own rules. Of course, life has taught each of them that they are, ultimately, just a man.
In comparison to his fellow Nike newsmakers, Woods’s shortcomings are small fry. Domestic affairs are between a man and his wife. He is well on the way to public redemption, it seems. Heck, he even played a round of golf with Barack Obama last week.
Armstrong faces possible jail time for his felonies and his millions have already been requested back by disappointed backers. For him, this may be the biggest mountain he has ever tried to scale since cancer, and he will have to do it in front of a bloodthirsty mob.
But even he is not up the kind of creek that Pistorius finds himself in. It would be foolish to try and speculate on the circumstances of that fateful morning. Even the police seem to be finding it hard enough to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
But, the simple fact is that Pistorius has killed a woman. And for that, the rules are the same for any man. – Sunday Tribune