“People suck, and that’s my contention. I can prove it on a scratch paper and pen. Give me a fucking Etch-a-sketch, I’ll do it in three minutes. The proof, the fact, the factorum. I’ll show my work, case closed. I’m tired of this back-slapping ‘Aren’t humanity neat?’ bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.” – Bill Hicks
I love writing about sport. I am stupid enough to believe that sometimes, just sometimes, it is possible to get a tangible glimpse into the unknowable breadth and depths of human emotion just by watching a simple action within a simple context. The joy perpetuated by Johan Cruyff’s shrug of the shoulder and shift of balance against Sweden in 1974 still causes goosebumps on the necks of generations of football fans. The sullen dangerous majesty of Sonny Liston only becomes more gut-wrenchingly sad when one thinks about the control that the Mafia had over his very right to earn a living – as evinced by the look on Muhammad Ali’s face as he stood over him mockingly, as the champ lay prostrate on the bottom of the ring having received barely a glancing shot from the man who would be the greatest.
But things get confused when the elegance of a perfectly tuned body and mind are separated from themselves, when we start to believe that those men and women who can inspire and upset in such equally herculean measure are figureheads in real life. It is undeniably part of the romance that flawed characters can succeed, and it is only natural that we should be as affected by their fall as their rise because in the real world our struggles are dull and lifeless things, devoid of colour and merely a moribund uphill walk against the crushing inevitabilities of work and life, of goals conceded and death.
I will never forget when Boris Becker won his third Wimbledon. He was a young flash of energy and grace whose very existence seemed to hint at infinite possibilities and potential for all of us. But only a few years later, and even though he was only 27 years old, he had the worn look of a man three times his age when he lost there against Pete Sampras in the final. His patchy ginger beard, glinting in the south London sunshine, told the story of a man who tragically (in the sporting sense, I use the word all too often, unthinkingly, when there are real tragedies in the world which quite easily supersede that of a young man not quite being at the top of his game anymore) knew that this was the last chance.
This is why I find it so sad that nowadays Becker is just a mouth on a screen, a gobshite in your daily paper and a pointless, unsought after opinion at the back of your mind, famous to a whole generation only for having sired a child in a cloakroom and not for the way that, almost single-handedly, he entirely reinvented the way that the seventh largest country in Europe saw the game of tennis.
And it has happened again because, of course, Boris has got a book to sell, and what better medium is there for the vapid non-thoughts of a man who doesn’t matter anymore to be broadcast to the world than through Twitter? The answer is Spinal Tap-ishly simple. There is none better medium. This time he has become embroiled in a tawdry late night spat with Oliver Pocher, TV comedian, World Cup cheerleader and the man who Bushido (who, himself, makes 50 Cent look like Oscar Wilde) rapped about recently calling him a “blonde victim” and that he was going to smack him about a bit.
The book is Becker’s retort to his ex-wives and his ever growing legion of detractors in the press and the public, and it has been filling up the pages of Germany’s tabloids for weeks now. And this is the sad thing about it all, the man is still seen as relevant in that, at the least, he still sells papers. But Boris Becker stopped being relevant to anything important a long time ago (indeed, one could argue that his being good at hitting a ball over a net was never that important, but then you probably shouldn’t have read this far anyway).
Because sportsmen have always faced an uphill battle after the glorious memories of those moments of youthful beauty started to fade, by paying attention we often only give them the lighter fluid with which to douse themselves. So the answer is simple, don’t buy Becker’s book, and don’t go onto his Twitter feed. He is now just like us, with all the bitterness and pointlessness that we all exhibit every day. It will only serve to remind you that we are, basically, a virus in tennis shoes, it’s just that some of us have better hand-eye coordination than others.