If you're looking for a cheat, Armstrong not Dettori is the real deal
Tipping PointCharles Barkley has over a foot on Frankie Dettori, and, as befits his “Round Mound of Rebound” nickname, is well over twice the champion jockey’s bodyweight. But the American basketball legend is someone a few of Dettori’s critics would do well to heed.
The widely reported suspicion that Dettori tested positive for cocaine in France last September has provoked some rather pious condemnation of the world’s most famous jockey, much of it along the lines of he has a responsibility to set a better example, an argument for private probity by public figures that is as old as celebrity and one which can be as bogus as a B-lister’s bosom.
That this country in particular should remain in thrall to the childish delusion that profile somehow requires a corresponding personal moral rectitude shows how deeply the concept of “role-model” has burrowed its way into the public consciousness like a prurient tick.
The recent evidence of how a shamelessly self-perpetuating political class, in thrall to the busted flush of a business elite and a morally vacuous religious establishment, absolved itself of real leadership might reasonably have reminded everyone that paragons of virtue are few and far between. And the consequences of that continue to be a lot more far-reaching than a jockey maybe putting a recreational drug up his nose.
But it’s still there. Sport is a trivial example, but an example none the less because too many people care for it to be irrelevant. Maybe it’s disillusionment with the social pillars that encourages us to search for the admirable elsewhere. But asking sportspeople to behave like saints away from their chosen arena is as unfair as it is unrealistic.
“Just ’cos I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids,” was Barkley’s succinct summation of his refusal to assume the mantle of role-model. For his troubles he got slapped around by the “controversy” machine, the one that never fails to churn a headline even with the most straight-forward of statements.
Not long afterwards, another American star, Barry Bonds, claimed everyone in society should be a role model, admirable on the face of it, and was duly ‘woo-hooed’ by the faithful, but fatally compromised by the baseball star’s subsequent revelation as a steroid-user.
Hostages to fortune
That’s the thing with those purporting to set an example: they’re making themselves hostages to fortune. This is so obvious that anyone with even a modicum of self-awareness steers well clear of the idea, usually leaving only those either with an agenda, or a larger than normal hubris quotient, to fulfil the role.
Henry Shefflin might just be the most perfect hurler any of us will ever see, possessed of all the skills, and yet devoted to using them for the good of the team. So in terms of what happens on the pitch, describing him as a role model is perfectly reasonable.