Sport doesn’t exist in a bubble, as much as some people would like it to.
Sometimes a sport, or at least many people who play, organise and watch it, need to take a step back and take a look at themselves.
And that’s what cricket and its followers need to do with the sad, serious case of Jonathan Trott, now back in England after leaving the Ashes tour of Australia suffering from a stress-related condition.
Some estimations are that one in four people suffer from such problems, although putting a precise figure on it is near-impossible.
Sportsmen and women can be vulnerable. Cricketers, away from their families for weeks in a sport that demands psychological strength and stability, are definitely susceptible. A succession have suffered publicly. Others may be privately suffering still.
There has been a frenzy of opinion on Trott. I only hope he’s not reading it. Not just the bad stuff. The encouragement, too. Is it really going to help? Is it really all about him or partly about the person sending the support? Is a tidal wave of sympathy really going to boost his psychological state or will this proud, talented sportsmen be mortified by the level of attention?
|Marcus Trescothick highlights the realities of mental illness in his book, Coming Back To Me [Getty Images]|
Modern sport, modern life, modern media. We are out of control people. I would ask each and every one of you reading this to join me in reconsidering our use of the micro-blogging site Twitter.
When Trott was dismissed in the second innings in Brisbane I wrote on my Twitter account, @LeeW_Sport: “Unsure what was more misguided. Jonathan Trott’s ‘tactics’ v Johnson, or the actual direction of Jonathan Trott’s shot for his dismissal.”
Now this I don’t regret. Mine is an official account, I’m effectively paid to tweet as well as broadcast and write. Opinions within reason is part of that.
In a way I was on to something. This dismissal wasn’t normal. This innings was simply not right. Then we found out what wasn’t right.
And I tweeted: “Jonathan Trott’s health is what’s important so thankfully he is returning to England; so unsure how/why he ended up in middle in Brisbane?”
This was greeted by approval from followers and some good points in response. But when I consulted a friend and colleague they suggested, sensibly, that care needs to be taken.
We don’t know exactly how Trott was behaving in the camp. And to hint that the considerable England support staff might have failed in their duties, when I think about, might be unfair.
While Trott should be left to get back in a better place cricket needs to return to a better place itself.,
Now you may be thinking this is mild stuff. Maybe. But did you read the Trott timelines on Twitter? It’s horrifying. Just because no one has has died, it doesn’t make the waves of arguing, testosterone and pontificating acceptable. The amount of supposition was staggering.
With 140 characters or fewer, the world is being fed bite-sized chunks of bile and nonsense. There is a victim here. The death of context.
Let me ask you this: Do you follow on Twitter a certain former UK news editor? He gets enough publicity without me mentioning his name. Perhaps you are those that have ‘gone to war with him’ over insensitive comments on Trott.Why? When has this man actually informed you of anything useful? What are his opinions worth? Why are you arguing with him? Is it helping Trott?
Have you listened to any radio phone-in debates on Trott’s mental state? I wonder how much supposition there was in the debate. I wonder how much deviation. And then there are columns like this one. I am trying to go deeper into an important issue, but I may have got it wrong. At least I am conscious that too much of this kind of thing won’t be doing Trott or anyone around him any good.
Since Trott’s plight became clear the Australia team, and David Warner in particular, has received a lot of criticism over their sledging and comments about Trott. But how much have we heard from the Australian cricket team since the news emerged about Trott’s problems? They weren’t to know, but the penny has dropped.
Fairer criticism had been directed at Australia and England for their deplorable behaviour throughout the match in Brisbane. Not so much sledging as vile abuse, from both sides. Lacking in class, wit or perspective. What is happening to the sport I love?
All stirred up by Twitter’s “peanut gallery” with a non-stop flow of banter. Please spare us from banter, the preserve of the utterly humourless.
That said, people who winced at Australia captain Michael Clarke suggesting Jimmy Anderson’s arm would be broken would chuckle if “Thommo” or “Lillee” had made the same comment in the 1970s. Time changes context.
Perception of the cricketer has changed. Where once players were shoved on to a ship to spend months on tour, or told to “man up” when they were down, we now have more of a handle of mental pressures.
Like many, Marcus Trecothick’s book, Coming Back To Me, has enlightened me hugely to the realities of mental illness and difficulties of a cricketer’s lifestyle. It’s an important book and a must-read.
Let’s be careful with Trott. If you were him, would you deserve analysis of your mental state 24 hours a day, seven days a week? While Trott should be left to get back in a better place, cricket needs to return to a better place itself.
You don’t need to be a major cricket fan to hope that in the second Test in Adelaide the game will discover some of its class. On the field, on Twitter, perhaps people, just for once, could think before they spit out their 140-character analysis.
Follow on Twitter: @LeeW_Sport