Legends’ impact felt in life beyond the game

It’s truly a slow day for Manchester United in the press, so I’ve decided to substitute today’s Stretty Stories with a piece I wrote awhile ago. This ran in my university’s newspaper last spring and is probably my favorite article I’ve ever written. It was originally written about sports in general, not just football, and how star athletes can have such a powerful impact on life. Two United legends – Cantona and Beckham – were the inspiration behind this, and that is why I’ve decided to share this with you.

Author’s note: As I said, this was originally written about all sports, not specifically Manchester United or even football for that matter. Some American athletes, such as Michael Jordan, are referenced. I’m assuming most know of Jordan, but if not you’ll still get my main message. Also, since this ran in a university newspaper in the United States, please forgive my use of the word “soccer” in the following. Enjoy!

Sports define our lives beyond our teams’ winning and losing. We all have heroes; a special athlete that we admire. We don’t always realize how important these heroes are, but the impact they can have on our lives is extraordinary.

Along with being a sports fanatic, I’m also a huge film buff. This weekend I decided to combine the two and watch the movie “Looking for Eric,” in which an English soccer fan experiencing a midlife crisis and dealing with thoughts of suicide seeks help from his hero, Manchester United legend Eric Cantona (or rather, a hallucination of him). It really struck me what a profound impact our sporting heroes can have on our lives.

Cantona happens to be one of my heroes; that’s the reason I had chosen to watch that movie. Sadly, his career was coming to an end early in my days as a fan, but I remember his swagger on the field. He seemed so nonchalant, but when the ball came to his feet he could produce magic. I still love watching his highlights on YouTube.

He’s just one of many athletes I hold as heroes. I looked up to Michael Jordan as a kid. Certain Manchester United players have become my heroes. Ryan Giggs for his commitment, having played all 19 years of his professional career at the club — a rare feat in any sport.

I’m sure all of you have heroes. Since this is Illinois, I’m sure a lot of you saw Jordan as a hero, too. It might be Wayne Gretzky for you hockey fans. If you love extreme sports, maybe it’s Tony Hawk. It doesn’t matter who; I’m sure any sports fan has some athlete they see as a hero.

For me, there has always been one athlete who has been my biggest hero: David Beckham. I own eight jerseys with the name Beckham on the back. I’ve read his autobiography. He’s the only player to leave Manchester United that I’ve continued to follow after his departure.

I can safely say that, while not as extreme of an example as in the movie, Beckham has had some influence on my life. My first semester at college, I really struggled to adapt. I never had to study in high school; I thought I could do the same at college. It’s safe to say my first semester ended horribly. I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for college.

Then I remembered my hero and the determination he showed through adversity. Following the 2006 World Cup, England’s coach told Beckham he was no longer part of his plans. The then-31-year-old Beckham was seen as too old.

Rather than give up, Beckham went back to his club team motivated. He played some of the best soccer of his career, forcing the coach to recall him to the national team. I was in the stands as Beckham took the field against Brazil in London, nine months after he had been told his international career was over.

I used that as inspiration and I turned it around. In fact, last semester I even made Dean’s List. I can honestly attribute that to the inspiration I found from my hero.

Some athletes change and define their respective sports. They do what most cannot, and in doing so, they become heroes. For those who think sports are just a game, I respectfully disagree. These heroes can change lives.

Maybe it’s the athletic ability that inspires you and makes you want to be a great athlete. Maybe it’s the characteristics they show, such as work ethic, commitment or dedication. Beckham’s work ethic and determination motivated me to turn my academics around. In “Looking for Eric,” the main character was saved from himself by his hero Eric Cantona.

Thirteen years after his retirement, I can still hear the fans sing Cantona’s name when I watch Manchester United games. How many people can truly make such an impact in people’s lives?

*Originally ran in The Daily Illini on April 13, 2010. Minor edits were made from the original.

You can follow Kyle on Twitter at KDill_MUFC.

2 Comments on Legends’ impact felt in life beyond the game

  1. Great piece, loved reading this the first time around.

    Although your point about “heroes doing things that others cannot”.. it’s true, but, I would say, heroes inpsire people to do things they THOUGHT they were incapable of. Your attribution of your sucess to Becks is a case in point!!

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