Sunday, May 29, 2005


So how come ten is a good number and I haven't written a word about soccer star Diego Maradona yet?

Maradona was the best in a time when soccer was much more geared towards destruction of play than ever before. And he did the most astonishing things while having fun. Most importantly, he is an artist. I find great pleasure in watching him perform.

But, unlike Pelé, Maradona is quite unheard of here in the US. Maybe it's because of his trouble with addictions --- but wait, isn't there a lot of noise about widespread doping in US flagship sports, haven't popular US track and field athletes been banned for life? And the reactions look too much like CYA and business as usual. So Maradona's lack of popularity can't be a chemical problem and there has to be another reason.

Maradona was born extremely poor. His father worked 14 hours a day to feed a numerous family. He had something like 8 brothers and they all shared one of the two bedrooms in his house. People in his neighborhood often went without eating. There was only one drinkable water faucet in his block.

From this place he was thrown on the throne of soccer by means of a powerful kick in the rear end, as he says. With his background, he had to deal with his country believing they were the best because of him, and with being the best in Europe with the expectation that he'd behave with Victorian gentleman manners. Somehow that didn't quite work.

For example, when he met John Paul II, the pope gave rosaries to his relatives. When it was Maradona's turn, the pope told him he had "something special for him" --- and gave him another rosary. When Maradona checked, it was identical to the other rosaries. So he went and asked the pope "this one is the same as the others, how is mine special?". No answer.

Maradona also saw all the wealth in the Vatican, and how its residents don't go through hardship. But especially after being criticized about spending too much money in his own catholic wedding party, he answered back commenting on all the money the Vatican would spend on Africa trips where the pope would kiss the ground, avoid leaving any money for kids starving to death, and still keep the gold hanging from the roof back at home.

Maradona is very direct and he usually expresses himself without political correctness, which is just another euphemism for being hypocritical and exhibiting amoral behavior.

Since Maradona is a human being, he has the right to express himself in any way he wants. It's amazing that I have to write the previous sentence, as if it wasn't obvious. But it may make you realize how much public figures don't do that because they'd rather shy away from the enormous responsibility that comes with standing for your beliefs.

Even though he was not specifically prepared to do so, Maradona had the presence of mind to take a huge responsibility on his shoulders. In my opinion, he outperformed the vast majority of us at that.

I wish we had more courage to ask difficult questions. But in this country that kind of behavior is not fashionable. That is probably why Maradona, like so many others, is unheard of in the US.

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