Diego Armando Maradona was a footballing legend and a genius with unquestionably exquisite skills with the ball. He was born the 5th of 8 children in a poor neighbourhood slum of Buenos Aires in Argentina. His football brilliance stood him out and at the age of 10, he was already being called “The Golden Boy” because of his football wizardry. He led his youth team to an unbeaten run of 136 games, winning several matches almost single-handedly. He was playing for the senior team before he was 16 years old.
His amazing football talents shot him to stardom, winning club championships in Argentina, Italy and Spain. The ultimate triumph was leading Argentina to win the World Cup in 1986 and reaching the final in 1990. He became a global icon and attained household name status and recognition. A genius had been unveiled before the world and everyone took notice.
Drugs and Mental Health Struggles:
However, the seeds for the unravelling of his career started during his playing days with Barcelona when he started taking and rapidly became addicted to cocaine. Other cocktails of drugs soon followed – including ephedrine and alcohol abuse. His career began to suffer and sometimes his behaviour became erratic on and off the pitch. He was banned in 1991 and then in 1994 – when he failed a drug test after playing in the match against Nigeria at the USA world cup.
Subsequently, he struggled greatly with drug abuse problems and going in and out of drug rehabilitation centres like a revolving door. He also started suffering from obesity and other health concerns.
And superimposed on these struggles were other mental health challenges – initially depression and subsequently receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. In the twilight of his remarkable life, it was a constant struggle to keep his weight and health problems in check, while the drug abuse and mental health challenges were also a constant source of concern.
The bitter-sweet story of rags to riches and super stardom of Maradona is also rich with important lessons for us all. I will attempt to touch on a few of them here.
a) Intense pressure and scrutiny of Stardom: All over the world, the celebrity status of musicians, movie industry practitioners, footballers and other famous sportsmen and women comes with the baggage of enormous amount of pressure and media scrutiny. In the case of Maradona, he could not go anywhere in the city of Naples without being mobbed after leading them to win the Championship and the European Cup. It was reportedly this frustration of lacking privacy for himself and his family that caused him to seek protection from the mafia, according to some media reports.
The pressure to always achieve peak level performance is incredibly overwhelming and fans can very quickly turn on a celebrity overnight for failing to live up to expectations. Some of them receive death threats and indeed, the sad tale of Escobar, the Colombian footballer who scored an own goal and was later shot by an irate fan comes to mind.
To a lesser extent but also very emotionally distressing, is the pressure on artistes, musicians and other celebrities. We should appreciate that they are firstly human beings. They will have good days and bad days just like everyone of us. Let´s cut them some slack and allow them to breath.
b). Danger of seeking solace in drugs: Intense pressure as described above, especially when sustained over a long time, can wear anyone down. Unfortunately, the common escape route available to most celebrities is to turn to drugs. Especially as they may be surrounded by adoring fans yet be very lonely in their personal lives with few or no true friends or family.
Sadly, seeking solace in drugs only opens a pandora box of unwelcome problems including damage to physical and mental health, as we can clearly see, play out in the life of Maradona. Mental health challenges can occur in everyone, but they become much more difficult to manage, when they are complicated by different cocktails of drug abuse.
c). Prevention is better than cure: There are frequently no happy endings when complicated drug abuse becomes established and addiction is firmly set in place. Even in the best of centres around the world, it frequently becomes a revolving door of going in for therapy, getting cleaned up, coming out back into the real world, then sliding back into the old habits and then needing to go back in for therapy and detoxification all over again.
If money or access to the best medical facilities was all that was needed to rid Maradona of his addictions, he never lacked either.
The only simple but effective conclusion is “Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure”. Say NO TO DRUG ABUSE.
Seek mental health interventions if you are in emotional distress or undergoing intense pressure.Or you are already struggling to break an addiction habit? If you are committed and you get professional help, your chances of beating it significantly improve.
Let´s be more understanding and supportive of celebrities as they also struggle in their personal lives with different challenges. But they also bear some responsibility…not to glamourize drug abuse for their teeming fans.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 3rd December 2020