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The evils of money in sport

The modern elite sporting landscape is a completely different ball game these days. Astronomical numbers are dealt between player representatives and sporting franchises on a daily basis to secure the services of the latest talent to emerge. Just think of the riches on offer in the IPL where the premier players can bank about $45 000 per day and that is the declared figure!

It is only natural that some catastrophic stories emanate from this wealth being distributed to those unfamiliar with the trappings that are omnipresent.

The most recent colossal contract to be inked features a baseball star who has seen the dark side and returned. He discovered fame and fortune early, then found a dastardly hell, and has now experienced a rebirth. Josh Hamilton, formerly of the Texas Rangers, has just signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Oh … I forgot to mention the numbers involved. Hamilton has penned a deal worth $125 million over the next five years. That is not a typo!

Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and was rewarded with a $4-million signing-on fee as a 17-year-old, but it wasn’t long before he and his career went totally off the rails. A car accident first damaged his back and sidelined him for months, resulting in enormous frustration.

Then an unfortunate run of injuries sapped enthusiasm and drive allowing the evils of celebrity, money and temptation to demonise his life. A chronic long-term addiction to sinister drugs and alcohol transformed Hamilton from a ridiculously skilled and admired baseball player who was the envy of all, to a homeless hobo sleeping on park benches, night after penniless night. It does not get any lower than that and he was hurtling at breakneck speed towards a point of no return. He was staring destitution and probable death in the face and spiralling down a big black hole.

One day, after another freezing crack-binged night, he awoke in a trailer surrounded by a dozen homeless faces he did not recognise and decided enough was enough. He had shrunken 50 pounds from his playing days and his once imposing frame of 6 foot 4 inches was stooped, frail and fragile. He walked for miles to his grandmother’s house, spilled his heart out and with her initial guidance decided to mend his ways. It was the start of a long miraculous road back to salvation.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2010 and the powerhouse outfielder Josh Hamilton was named the American Baseball League’s Most Valuable Player. His extraordinary redemption was complete. He was eventually and astonishingly the absolute superstar that all had originally predicted.

He has fallen fleetingly off the wagon a couple of times since then but following very public confessions has managed to compile a support team that now keeps a tight reign. So much so that The Angels have taken a huge punt on this gigantic talent and invested substantially. As Hamilton cheerfully announced on the weekend at his press conference to unveil his signing, "I started off with the Devil Rays and now I'm an Angel."

Josh Hamilton is one lucky guy. Others are not so fortunate.

I stumbled across an extraordinary statistic regarding American sport this week that got me thinking about the ever-increasing magnitude of finance that today dominates sport.

In the NFL, the average lifespan of a player is three and a half years. It was estimated recently that 78 per cent of NFL players squander their fortunes and are bankrupt or facing serious financial stress within two years of ending their careers.

That’s no joshing.

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