Sports legends: The ‘fault’ in their stars

Updated 19 Nov 2014

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Imran Khan with Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in the background
Imran Khan with Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in the background

In a field where physical and mental alertness is a prime requisite for success, injuries, medical conditions and physical setbacks can spell the end of an otherwise promising sporting career.

As traumatic as it is for the athletes themselves, their millions of fans also follow news of such events with great interest, hoping for the best while looking to see if their idol recovers from whatever ailment or injury he or she has suffered.

In this context the latest episode of the recently-retired, seven-time Formula 1 winner, Michael Schumacher, who received a severe head injury while skiing with his son, created quite a stir among his fans around the globe. The German race driver, who was previously invovled in a number of accidents on the track throughout his career, is now slowly recovering from the near-fatal injury that occurred back in December 2013.

Then there are diseases which, when they strike sporting celebrities, come into the public perception.


See how famous sports personalities turn a setback into a source of inspiration for others


  Muhammad Ali at the Parkinson’s Center set up in his name.
Muhammad Ali at the Parkinson’s Center set up in his name.

For example boxing legend Muhammad Ali, critically ill while braving Parkinson’s disease for the last several decades, has almost made the disease synonymous with his name. It was only after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s that the general public learnt about the existence of this relatively unknown condition. The former champion boxer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984 at the age of 42, and is one of the most high-profile people battling the condition. His brain injury could have been caused from head trauma due to repeated blows to the head, which has prompted sports bodies to make protective head gear compulsory during boxing bouts.

There are also the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, the Muhammad Ali Movement Disorder Center, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Community Outreach and Wellness Center, and an Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in the US built by philanthropists inspired by the legend’s ongoing fight with the disease. The facilities that combine clinical and research expertise with community support and emotional care are an outstanding resource for people with Parkinson’s or other movement disorders.

A star player, whether playing or retired, is likely to have a great impact on the masses. A true fan is likely to remember the on-the-field performances and off-the-field remarks, interviews, quotes, fashion trends and sometimes even the entire biography of his or her idol.

Realising the influence that these sports legends have on their fans, some prominent stars started creating awareness of diseases and conditions that would initially strike fear in the hearts of most people simply because there was little knowledge about them. This is especially true for those players who have firsthand experience of diseases that may have a stigma attached or are fatal in nature.

Magic Johnson during his HIV press conference
Magic Johnson during his HIV press conference

During a press conference in 1991, the then Lakers star of NBA, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, announced to the world that he was retiring immediately as he was HIV positive. Back then, contracting HIV was considered to be as good as having a death sentence. However, later on, and thanks in part to Johnson’s own awareness-building activities, there was greater understanding of the difference between HIV and AIDS along with the importance of the then recommended ‘triple cocktail’ drug therapy by his doctors.


Realising the influence that these sports legends have on their fans, some prominent stars started creating awareness of diseases and conditions that would initially strike fear in the hearts of most people simply because there was little knowledge about them. This is especially true for those players who have firsthand experience of diseases that may have a stigma attached or are fatal in nature.


  Wasim Akram raising awareness about diabetes.
Wasim Akram raising awareness about diabetes.

Not only did Magic Johnson go public with his disease, he also started creating awareness regarding HIV and AIDS and how it is contracted, spread, transmitted and avoided. He created the Magic Johnson Foundation to combat HIV and remained involved globally as an HIV activist. The stigma that was initially associated with the deadly disease started to blur. He soon became the face of the disease and was able to create the much required awareness among the masses.

Cricketers, over the years, also pitched in and understood their responsibility to sports lovers and mankind in general. The only state-of-the-art lifeline for the poor Pakistanis suffering from cancer, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, was built in 1994 in Lahore.

It was only after the unfortunate death of the legendary 1992 World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan’s mother from cancer that convinced him to go ahead with the project.

Recently, following in his footsteps, Shahid Khan Afridi, also came up with the Shahid Afridi Foundation with an objective of giving back to the country in the form of providing basic health and education.

The McGrath Foundation was founded in 2002 by the Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath and his wife Jane specifically for breast cancer in Australia. The foundation raises money to fund McGrath Breast Care Nurses in communities generating support for the families having a patient with breast cancer while educating and raising awareness among women in Australia.

Diagnosed in 1997, Jane later died of the cancer in 2008. The cricketer was then given the role of chairman of the board of the McGrath Foundation. Be it the Jane McGrath Day, Pink Wash, Pink Stumps Day or a regular day during an international Test match, all the spectators and even the players in Australia turn up in pink to promote the campaign and objective of the McGrath Foundation. Meanwhile more awareness is being created regarding breast cancer not only in Australia but around the globe wherever the matches are being watched.

Wasim Akram, undoubtedly the best left arm fast bowler ever, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1997. Contrary to the belief of many his career did not come to a halt at that stage and he controlled both diabetes and the cricketing world. Wasim Akram soon became a face synonymous with diabetes and a source of inspiration for many living with the condition in the subcontinent. He started participating actively in different drives and campaigns creating awareness about the disease that is still considered a stigma by many locally.

Glenn with McGrath Breast Care Nurses
Glenn with McGrath Breast Care Nurses

Sprains, strains and fractures are some of the most common injuries occurring on the football field. Tennis elbow or the lateral epicondylitis, the soreness, tenderness and inflammation of the radial collateral ligament and muscles, generally occurring due to abrupt or excessive and over use of the same muscles by repeated motions are common, too, with tennis players, table tennis and badminton players along with rotator cuff tendinitis. Still, thanks to his magnanimous persona among South Asians, the understanding and awareness of the condition was developed in the region thanks to cricketer Sachin Tendulkar rather than any of the local tennis or badminton stars here like Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Aisam-ul-Haq, Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna or even Saina Nehwal for that matter.

Tendulkar suffered the injury during the latter half of his career and was unable to pull a short length delivery comfortably for a boundary as before after that. Back in 2004, he feared his career was over due to this but he was able to overcome the condition, piling up heaps of runs before finally retiring a decade later as a legend.

There are many more such stories of courage and perseverance from the personal battles of sports personalities that have helped these stars become more human in the eyes of their fans and provided courage to those in similar situations to take the challenges life throws their way in their stride.

kalishahid@hotmail.com

Twitter: @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 16th, 2014