Rich, famous, successful – and just as vulnerable as the rest of us

Rich, famous, successful – and just as vulnerable as the rest of us

25/11/2013 at 16:39Updated

After his stand-out performance in taking five wickets on the opening day of the Ashes, Stuart Broad was asked whether the abuse from opposing players or the crowd had bothered him.

He smiled - smiled broadly, in fact - before giving his response.

"In our medical assessments the psychologist did tests on personality and said there were three guys in the side who would thrive properly on getting abuse - KP [Kevin Pietersen], myself and Matty Prior," Broad said.

"So they picked a good man to go at."

Five days later, that brief question and answer is enough to send a chill through any sports fan, or indeed any human being, after the awful news that Jonathan Trott has been forced out of the Ashes with a stress-related illness. Because when the sledging was redirected towards Trott, it was clear that the Australians had picked on man who would not relish such treatment.

England coach Andy Flower was quick to stress that Trott's issue has been ongoing for some time, and that the ferocious sledging he received in Brisbane - chiefly from Aussie firebrand David Warner - was "not directly responsible" for Trott's decision to quit the tour.

Yet in the same breath he criticised Warner for being "horribly disrespectful" of Trott by talking to the media about the "fear in his eyes" and stating that he had been "poor and weak".

This is not the place for a lengthy discussion of the various personality types among the world's best sports stars, nor is it the time to speculate on the details of Trott's condition, which are yet to be fully disclosed.

But the basics are clear. All world class sports stars - a category which comfortably includes Trott - are born with prodigious amounts of talent. All are born with the determination and work ethic to turn raw hand-eye coordination and athleticism into a career doing something they love.

Far from all are born with the unshakeable mental fortitude needed to cope with life at the top.

The slings and arrows of outrageous abuse that come a sportsman's way in the modern arena - almost always under the dual banners of 'banter' and 'analysis' - are enough to shake sturdy psyches. And, tragically, enough to break weaker psyches altogether.

Sure, the sledging in the first Test was nasty: Australian skipper Michael Clarke was fined a fifth of his match fee for threatening James Anderson with a "broken f****** arm" at one point, but it was by no means unprecedented in the game.

Sledging is just half the story, however: the analysis from former cricketers is often even more withering, even if couched in rather more polite language. Former England captains called out Trott for his display at the Gabba, with Michael Vaughan saying it was "as bad an innings as I have ever seen from an England number three," while Nasser Hussain wrote the entire team off as a "shambles".

Just for a second, let's turn this around to a look at what you do in your everyday life. Do people shout abuse at you as you sit at your desk at work each day? If you're a student, are your essays returned by lecturers with "this is as bad an essay as I have ever read by a second year" scrawled at the bottom in red? And even if you have suffered in this way, you are well within your rights to complain about bullying, harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

Not that it needs to get that far: the more sensitive souls among us are invariably noticed and sensed by work colleagues as a matter of normal human empathy, so that people less able to deal with 'banter' or crass jokes at their expense are rarely subjected to them, except in cases of outright bullying. And in those cases, there's almost always a higher power to turn to, in the form of a Human Resources department or similar. And when there isn't, or that option fails, there's the nuclear option: you walk away and find a new job.

Trott has no such options. On tour and away from family and non-cricketing friends for months at a time, has cannot lodge a complaint to the Telegraph or Test Match Special about Michael Vaughan. He can't pen a stern letter to Australian coach Darren Lehmann asking the opposing players to back off. Either option would make him a laughing stock and guarantee him even worse treatment in the next match.

So when the sledging and opinion that amounts to nothing more than cheap bullying builds up to the point of intolerability, that leaves Trott just one option: the nuclear option. He walks away and does something else with his life, hoping that one day things will be better and he can come back to it.

What else can he do? When you're one of those who feels every barb and jibe, something has to give. If you're not born with the ability to shrug those things off, no amount of people telling you to pull yourself together and count your blessings will make the slightest bit of difference.

But others have the opposite problem: undeniable world class allied not to bullishness, arrogance and swagger, but to debilitating introspection and depression.

These are nice people. Good people. Rich, famous and - in career terms - wildly successful people. But having the world at their feet and money in the bank doesn't mean they don't have problems just as real as those faced by the rest of us.

Toby Keel

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