In Good Conscience

True stardom is all about deeds, rather than flaunting value

Chinese broadcast journalist Tao Song (left) shaking hands with Jamaica's gold medallist Usain Bolt (right). Tao interupted Bolt's celebrations after winning the 200m final when he crashed into him whilst filming from a segway motorised scooter besid
Chinese broadcast journalist Tao Song (left) shaking hands with Jamaica's gold medallist Usain Bolt (right). Tao interupted Bolt's celebrations after winning the 200m final when he crashed into him whilst filming from a segway motorised scooter beside the track. PHOTO: AFP

In the modern world, we bury achievement with the packaging of celebrity bubble that lasts no longer than candy floss.

Three images illustrate the point. First, Usain Bolt completes the 100m and 200m sprint double in Beijing, the world talks about good triumphing over evil, and Bolt gets mown down by a Segway.

Second, 11 top tennis stars of past and present stop the traffic in New York by posing for a photo in their tennis kit with a yellow taxi. Corny doesn't do it as a description but, lest we miss the point of the exercise, Maria Sharapova spells it out by tweeting: "Let's be honest, only Nike can make this happen."

Third, and by no means least, was the advertisement for a nanny (sorry, an executive personal assistant and organiser) to help, among other things, Jermain Defoe run his homes, his family, and the Global Brand Defoe he is building.

The advert was placed on a recruitment website called secsinthecity.co.uk. Seriously, I'm not capable of making that up.

The one place where this ubiquitous personal assistant cannot serve him is on the pitch. And there, rather than all the mockery in the media, is where Defoe needs to be at his sharpest.

Of the three images above, the one that appeals to me is Bolt picking himself off the track, dusting himself down, and joking about this being a plot by Justin Gatlin's people to take him down.

It could, obviously, have turned out horribly. The world's fastest man, champion of the clean few, could have suffered a broken leg and sued the hapless Chinese Segway-riding cameraman for more than he is worth.

But he didn't. He turned it into a moment of humour and humility.

Good for Bolt.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDjY34VVTVQ

The tennis stars in Greenwich Village? Well, Sharapova is almost certainly right. Only Nike could hijack the US Open build-up with a promotion for its own brand, with the tagline that its people have a combined net worth of US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion).

You don't believe that? Here's the roll call: Roger Federer (US$320 million in career earnings), Andre Agassi (US$175 million), Pete Sampras (US$150 million), Serena Williams (US$140 million), Sharapova (US$125 million), Rafael Nadal (US$120 million), John McEnroe (US$50 million), Grigor Dimitrov (US$3.8 million), Nick Kyrgios (US$2 million), Eugenie Bouchard (US$2 million) and Madison Keys (US$1.8 million).

Each amount combines prize money won on court as well as commercial earnings. The common factor, in case anyone blinked and missed it, is they are all Nike's people - as is the aforementioned Gatlin.

Defoe doesn't have that in his portfolio; actually, he wears adidas.

However, the ex-Tottenham, ex-Toronto, ex-England scorer is a man of means, and willing to share a week of his salary to find the right person to run around after him (and his Mum) so that he can capitalise on going global.

Sunderland FC pays him a reported £60,000 (S$129,000) per week. He, or his management team, therefore generously set that as the annual salary for the new addition to his burgeoning workforce.

Here's how the vacancy advertisement kicked off: "We are looking for a highly experienced Executive Personal Assistant who will be working closely with senior manager of Defoe Enterprise Ltd.

"You will be working for a high profile individual within the sports industry so the candidate must therefore, by nature, be very flexible and hands-on and be capable of multi-tasking, most importantly you must maintain the highest level of confidentiality in order to assist the manager."

So the successful candidate would help to arrange Defoe's - and his family's - private, social and business agendas, in addition to his public appearances, travel schedules, business projects and daily itineraries.

And, naturally, to "create a global brand for the Jermain Defoe name, growing his online database on his website, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms". And assist in "gaining further recognition within the media" and produce "his own iPhone apps".

Defoe is single, 32, and he says he doesn't drink, has never smoked cigarettes or indulged in drugs.

He is - despite or because of his lowly beginnings in East London where his mother Sandra raised him in the absence of an alcoholic father - devoted to the Catholic faith, and is looking to build on his Jermain Defoe Foundation which supports homeless, vulnerable and abused young people in St Lucia, the Caribbean island where his mother came from.

The media has had a field day picking details out of the ad (which rapidly disappeared). The stories play on the requirement for a 24/7 person whose tasks are seen as anything from filling his fridge to getting his laundry and his gardening done, walking his pets and even helping organise his designer label wardrobe.

Perhaps, between the fiction and the reality, there is a cry for Defoe, who has - or had - a rare talent. He was quick, lithe and instinctively a scorer.

At his age, he would still reckon himself to be the striker that Spurs or even England need rather than be feeding off scraps with struggling Sunderland.

He came up through London's remarkable Senrab youth club that produced John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ledley King and Lee Bowyer.

Some of those made more from less talent than Defoe was blessed with. True, in his 568 club appearances, he has netted 235 goals. And for England, which took him into the FA national school of excellence when he was 14, he scored 19 goals in 55 games, though most of them were against the likes of Andorra, Trinidad and Tobago, and San Marino.

The one place where this ubiquitous personal assistant cannot serve him is on the pitch. And there, rather than all the mockery in the media, is where Defoe needs to be at his sharpest.

Performance is key, the rest is imagery. Lucrative, but not what he would hope to be remembered for.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'True stardom is all about deeds, rather than flaunting value'. Print Edition | Subscribe