Pubdate: Sun, 30 May 1999
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Author: Paul Smith


Why All The Fuss?

PAUL SMITH, the cricketer banned for drug-taking, says sportsmen are
unfairly forced to play by a different set of rules in their private

Lawrence Dallaglio should be allowed to get on with his life instead
of picking up the News Of The World this morning with a sense of
dread. Things need saying about how certain newspapers are allowed to
ruin the lives of people in the public eye.

Sportsmen are regarded as easy targets, for obvious reasons. They make
headlines on the back page and, like most of the population probably,
they might have done things in the past that they regret.

Such a tenuous link between sin and celebrity quickly moves them from
the back of the paper to the front, for no other reason than they are
recognisable names of varying importance. If the editors of these
papers can explain why this is fair, or even necessary, we all would
love to hear it.

I lived in America for a while and wonder why our press here can't be
as responsible as they are there. I read, for instance, that Nigel
Wade, the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, said: 'Some of the tabloid
tactics employed in Britain would be considered unethical by the
standards of orthodox American journalism.'

And in Australia they seem to be more responsible than we are. 'I
can't remember the last time that a story broke in the Australian
press about a sports star sleeping with a bimbo,' says a Murdoch
sportswriter, Robert Craddock.

It all started falling apart for me four years ago, my benefit season
at Warwickshire. Whatever you might have read before, this is what
really happened.

During a cricketer's benefit year, you tend to be out at functions
virtually every night, on top of playing and travelling commitments.
Sportsmen come into contact with all sorts of people, good and bad.
And some people's intentions you have to question.

Towards the end of that summer I dropped into a popular bar in central
Birmingham with a friend, and it was there that a well-wisher bought
me a beer. What he didn't tell me was that he had spiked my drink with
what we later found out were five Ecstasy tablets. Half an hour later
it started to take effect, and a friend had to stay with me for 36
hours to make sure I was going to be okay.

But if I had been caught, who would have believed my story? I would
have been deemed guilty by newspapers for whom the truth would have
been too dull. Sportsmen are simply not treated as normal human beings
who can go through bad times like everyone else. That was a lesson I
was to learn well over the next 12 months.

I was also to learn that I was not popular in certain quarters. I was
in the middle of a messy divorce and I found that people's attitudes
to me changed very quickly, sometimes rightly, and at other times
because of frequent whispers.

One evening, while entertaining guests at my Birmingham apartment, I
received a phone call from a reporter who said he had knowledge of
'many events' which had happened to me over a 14-year period and, when
the conversation finished, I along with the guests realised I had a
big problem on my hands. I telephoned a friend, who is a local sports
editor, and sought his advice; what I failed to do was inform him of
all the facts. And into that vacuum rushed the speculators.

Over the next few months I received more calls. These people said they
had damaging information, not just about me but of events involving
others, mainly people outside my profession.

One Sunday morning I bumped into a freelance reporter knocking on my
future mother-in-law's front door. Because of everything that was
taking place in my life I honestly thought, to hell with it: I'll tell
him my story and maybe then the whole mess will go away. Believe me, I
know how Dallaglio must have felt. My brain was overloaded with
problems and I honestly couldn't handle it.

Because of that chance meeting, a story was later to appear which led
to my receiving an 18-month ban. As I have said, I had never failed a
drugs test but, because of this story, the England Cricket Board, as
it then was, had no choice but to suspend me. They could ill-afford
such negative publicity.

I accepted the ban, which effectively finished my career, but still
think it was excessively harsh. That is another area that needs
addressing in this debate. These punishments are too punitive by far,
especially when the misdemeanours are not related in any way to cricket.

After leaving the hearing, I was driven to a sporting agent's London
office where I was told there was UKP80,000 on offer should I be
interested in 'spilling the beans'. There were a lot of things I could
have said about a lot of people but I declined the offer. It is a
decision I have never regretted.

The majority of the revelations were about incidents that happened in
the Eighties and I am convinced that they were only brought up in the
Nineties because of Warwickshire's fantastic run. And, of course,
other innocent people got dragged into it.

I discovered then that the rules are different for us. As things
stand, it is OK to exaggerate, to take events out of context, to not
treat us as normal people with normal problems and the usual set of
skeletons in the cupboard.

If you are on the inside looking out, it is hard to believe anything
you read. In the 16 years I was at Warwickshire, I played with and
against many of the best cricketers in the world, players with a
higher profile than mine, but I could often barely recognise what I
read about them.

Take Brian Lara. He arrived at Edgbaston as a team-mate fresh from
hitting a world record Test score of 375 against England in Antigua.
More TV crews and photographers swarmed to the county ground than
before or since. Reporters consistently wanted the young West Indian's
time, and this was not always possible, because of the job he had to
do for the county. But, as a result of Lara's public image, often
based on tittle-tattle planted by jealous fellow pros and blown up by
eager journalists, the pressure on him was relentless.

The picture drawn of Lara was wholly false, and people would realise
this if they were able to spend quality time with him. So that is just
one side of the problem.

At the end of Warwickshire's 1994 treble season, Lara and me flew to
South Africa to play floodlit games in aid of Allan Donald's benefit
year. During the flight from Heathrow I sat and watched as a film crew
and a photographer filmed Lara as he slept. Even when fast asleep, the
man could not get away from the constant and unreasonable intrusion on
his privacy.

Ian Botham has had his fair share of run-ins with newspapers, mostly
in this country, and of course his image wasn't helped by his
admission that he smoked marijuana when growing up. You would think
that he must have been constantly at it, from the way he was
subsequently treated in the papers, but the times I spent in his
company I never heard or saw anything which might indicate he still

Bob Woolmer, who coached Warwickshire when I was there, spoke to me on
more than one occasion about my drinking. He is a man who cares
greatly for his players, in many different ways. What he was saying
made perfect sense then, as it does now. However, I'm a strong
believer that only the person living that life can make that change.
It must come from within. It certainly doesn't help to have those
problems exposed in the pages of a tabloid newspaper. Perhaps editors
could think about that some time.

After Warwickshire's treble in 1994 and another triumphant
double-winning season in '95, I decided that the next season would be
my last. I realised that, despite being only 32, I needed to sort
myself out once and for all. Professional sport was not going to help
me and a complete change of lifestyle was required. Everything had to

Now I spend a lot of my time teaching kids how to play cricket.
Hopefully I can teach them a few other good things too.
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