The death of James Small is a reminder that sports stars should only be judged for what they achieve on the field of play, writes former Bok STEFAN TERBLANCHE.
I don’t even know where to begin after a very emotional time, saying goodbye to one of our 1995 World Cup heroes and, more importantly, a friend and brother to us all: James Small.
To many of us, James was much more than just a rugby player and his death was met with heartache and tears, while also sparking much debate, articles and speculation about his life away from the rugby pitch.
I have often been criticised for my view that rugby players, and any other sportsperson for that matter, sign up to play sport purely for the love of it.
Many of the extras thrust on to these players are completely uncalled-for and most sportspeople are not capable of dealing with them. As fans and supporters in South Africa, we are constantly looking for feel-good stories and people who we can look up to, even though the real heroes and superstars are all around us in everyday life.
There is the mom who lost her husband, now left with two young children and no life insurance. The teacher who collects one of his pupils in the township every day on the way to and from school. The security guard at the gate who gets up at 3am, gets to work before everyone else, and greets us with the biggest and warmest smile even though we are ‘too tired’ to even raise our hand or nod our heads to greet them. In my book, these are the real heroes.
So often, and through no fault of their own, we put sports stars on a pedestal, not because of their sporting talents but because of our own circumstances and shortcomings. When they fail, we judge them according to our own double standards; we react and criticise because it reflects badly on our own choices and judge of character. We don’t need to name these sport stars as we have seen many of them in the past, and trust me when I say we will see many more in the future.
The heroes and people we need to aspire to emulate and look up to are around us: they are in our communities; at the rugby club where we have a drink every Friday or Saturday afternoon; at school where we drop off our kids every day.
We don’t need to look at sport stars and celebrities to inspire us and we should only celebrate their performances and special talents in their fields of play.
Please don’t get me wrong, as for not one moment would I put myself in the celebrity sphere of a James Small or a John Smit, but at some stage in my career I was seen as a hero to not only a young child, but also to some adults and people much more successful
in life than I would ever be.
I can tell you right now I wasn’t the right person for that job and many other sport stars, current and former, don’t fit the bill either. That doesn’t make them bad people at all, just not the right people.
We should understand and learn the difference between sport heroes and real heroes and become the people we would like these stars to be; not only for our own well-being but also for those closest and dearest to us.
Celebrate and respect them for what they achieve on the field, that’s all.
*Terblanche is a former Springbok who earned 37 Test caps. He is now the CEO of the SA Rugby Legends Association and will serve as a member of World Rugby’s judicial committee at the 2019 World Cup. His column was brought to you by Tuttle Insurance Brokers.