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L'affaire Roebuck
by Rahul Namjoshi
Nov 22, 2011

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By Rahul Namjoshi

The fallen hero has been a favorite character right from the times of Greek and Indian mythologies.  Somehow a tainted genius has appealed to authors across centuries.  He gives them a complex character with various layers and umpteen shades of grey. Most readers too don’t really care too much for the perfect flawless character.  Yudhishthira in Mahabharata is one such example.  Very few books have been written with him being the central character.  The number of books written on Karna, on the other hand are too many.  

There are some similarities and differences in the way people react to the personal flaws in a sports person.  By flaws, I mean all the human frailties that a sports person demonstrates outside of his or her chosen profession.  Some almost perfect champions are looked upon as too boring and dull.  Pete Sampras, Rahul Dravid, Roger Federer, Vishwanathan Anand are too nice, almost too good to be true.  They are loved for their game, they are respected by their opponents for their talent and that’s about it.  Then there have been champions who epitomise the flawed genius concept.  Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods spring to mind.  There have been a few who have managed to walk the fine line between boring and enfant terrible like Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic and MS Dhoni.

The media obviously has played a huge role in expounding the image of a champion and also takes a vicarious pleasure in dismantling it.  The kind of media frenzy seen once the Tiger Woods story broke was disgusting.  The man obviously wasn’t a saint.  But the way his family was hounded, the way he was taken to the cleaners by the press was unacceptable.

All these thoughts spring to mind after reading and observing the media reporting in l’affaire Roebuck.  To make it clear, I have been a big fan of Peter Roebuck - he was one of the top cricket writers in the world.  And I am pleased to note the fact that the media has chosen to wait for the final police report instead of talking to ‘sources’, making insinuations and casting aspersions on the man’s character.

What I am surprised about though is that it hasn’t happened. All the articles I have read talk of a respected reporter, with a fleeting mention of ‘unfortunate circumstances that led to his untimely death’.

If one looks at the circumstances as gleaned from newspaper reports it is clear that the South African police was in the process of interrogating Roebuck for a sexual assault complain lodged against him. According to Jim Maxwell, ABC’s main commentator who was with Roebuck minutes before he jumped out of the hotel window, Roebuck was in a state of utter despair. What Roebuck was supposed to be charged for was a supposed criminal act.

Roebuck’s innocence or guilt may never be proved but in many high profile cases the media hasn’t really waited for the final verdict, has it? So many super stars have been ‘exposed’ through sting operations or hanged by the media on one person’s statement, sometimes without an iota of proof.  But not in this case. All those breaking news stories on cheating football stars, golfers and cricketers who claim that some match fifteen years back was fixed have been printed and broadcast with impunity.

All the media stories on the private lives of Tiger Woods, Cashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ryan Giggs were more about their moral failings.  As far as I can remember, there was no criminal breach involved.  But yet these guys were never given a decent chance to explain themselves and found themselves splashed across the front pages of many newspapers.

I have a couple of theories to this understated reporting of the Roebuck case. Is it that the media looks after its own? Why is no one really trying to find out the ‘truth?'  There are so many unanswered questions.  Was there a policeman present when the suicide took place?  If yes, what was he doing? 

There was a suspended sentence earlier, could they talk to the complainants again?  Investigative journalism should help the world settle any doubts about the tragic death. The question is can the press handle the truth themselves.  Is this the cronyism that the press keeps on lambasting every other profession for?

I also find that the press finds it unsavoury to write unflattering things about the private lives of the dead and I agree with the sentiment.  But isn’t writing and telling the whole world about transgressions of living champions in their private lives equally reprehensible?  The fallen champion has to live with the stigma all his or her life breaking relationships, descending in his own personal hell.

I wish to reiterate that the Roebuck case is only taken as an illustration to highlight the media’s two faced behaviour.  If journalism is supposed to be neutral and fair then it has to apply to every one.  Even to journalists.

I wonder how Roebuck, who in his famous article post Sydney gate, asked for Ricky Ponting’s head, would write his own ending.

 
More Views by Rahul Namjoshi
  A letter from one Rahul to another
  L'affaire Roebuck
  Mumbai crowned Ranji Champs for 38th time
  Ode to a champion
  Impossible is nothing
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