In a world where conspiracy theories abound, not even the death of a sports hero goes unblemished.
Sometimes just knowing yourself isn't enough.
Gracia Dios, por el fútbol, por Maradona! So screamed an announcer when soccer hero Diego Maradona scored the Goal of the Century in 1986.
Maradona died of a heart attack last Wednesday at the age of 60, plunging his native Argentina into three days of national mourning. National sports heroes are nothing new, and though soccer stars tend to garner more idolatry than athletes in other sports, the deaths of Gordie Howe, Dale Earnhardt, Roberto Clemente, and Kobe Bryant effected tremendous sadness in their nations. But in the death of Maradona, we see something different—the skepticism prevalent in today's society has metastasized from the political realm and begun to permeate all aspects of our lives. Conspiracy theories surrounding his death abound; in fact, his fans seem much more interested in his health after death than Mr. Maradona ever was while he was alive.
And all of this is magnified by Maradona himself. He was not a squeaky clean sports hero—someone as concerned with his legacy and reputation as his achievements and accomplishments. He was not Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter. Maybe he was Pete Rose or Lance Armstrong. Maybe he disappointed as many fans as he thrilled. He struggled with drug addiction for decades and was tossed from the World Cup after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He had a son he refused to acknowledge for years and was estranged from his two daughters. There were hints of domestic abuse and he involved himself with organized crime figures, with guns.
Most frustrating of all—he understood himself, admitted his mistakes—but did nothing to alter them. The humanity of erring is well known, but sympathy for the person who fails but refuses to change is more difficult to accept...and yet...three days of national mourning tell a more human tale than any on a police blotter or World Cup dismissal.
Now that he's gone, the controversy over his death is ginning up, and in a country like Argentina where soccer is basically a religion, malfeasance in any link of the medical chain between Maradona's recent surgery and his subsequent heart attack could mean death for the person involved. Referees and players have been murdered in the past for purported mistakes, a situation that would only be magnified regarding a player of Maradona's status. Add this to the world's newfound passion for doubting the truth and we have a volatile and potentially deadly situation.
We can witness a similar attitude among Donald Trump's most ardent supporters who cannot, or refuse to, believe that their hero has failed, but can subscribe only to the belief that he was made to fail by others' dishonesty and negligence. It's a loser's game blaming others for one's faults, and here at least the two heroes diverge. We can criticize Maradona for at times almost luxuriating in his weaknesses and indiscretions—an attitude of oh well, that's just me. But throughout he was not loath to admit what others knew. In Trump we have a person who admits to nothing, acknowledges no mistakes, discloses no regrets. We can always recognize the humanity in the prodigal and imperfect Maradona; it is impossible to pry any humanity out of the narcissistic and infallible Trump.
Sometimes just knowing yourself isn't enough, but it can humanize the fallible, and maybe that's enough.