Whether you're a rapist, a junkie or a murderer, it doesn't seem to matter as long as you've got skills. As a society, we are incredibly forgiving of our sports heroes and their shortcomings. Quite often, vices like substance or alcohol abuse will leave us even more amazed. "If he can do that when he's railing coke every day," we ruminate, "imagine how good he'd be sober."
It's the sad truth that we don't see professional athletes as fellow humans, but rather as an elite class set apart from the rest of humanity. They are fine physical specimens who entertain us while we drink our beer and eat our peanuts at the neighbourhood pub. They have become no more than unwitting actors in a never-ending movie.
These are the precise reasons why I am in awe of the decision made by Theoren Fleury late in the 2000/2001 National Hockey League season, one of his finest to date, to check into rehab. The announcement caught many off guard, not because it was unexpected but because it was completely voluntary. This wasn't Kevin Stevens getting busted smoking crack with a hooker in St. Louis or another chapter in the epic saga that is Darryl Strawberry. Theo made this decision on his own.
While the specifics of his abuse aren't known, the important thing here isn't the what, when or how, but the admission that there was a problem. A professional athlete who, by his own admission, has had this problem his whole career, showed the personal strength to put himself and his own well being first. He was well aware he could get away with it, but he chose to step out of the limelight and deal with it.
Jokes have been made, slurs have been uttered and many had begun writing him off, saying his career was as good as done. What they failed to realize was that this wasn't a display of weakness or failure. Rather, the opposite is true. Fleury has shown more strength of spirit, conviction and character than most athletic icons can dream of.
Dealing with substance abuse, whether it's drugs or alcohol, is one of the most difficult battles in the world that never ends. It involves a change in perspective, lifestyle, associations, friends and many other things. It requires you to disassemble the life you've been living, discard a great deal of it and then start over. You must question yourself, your surroundings and everything you've grown accustomed to and comfortable with over your
To even start down that road takes more strength than many possess. The war has just started for Theo, but he's got a couple of battles under his belt and seems to be gaining momentum. I humbly and respectfully tip my hat.
Lawrence Bailey can be reached at email@example.com.