Bernardo M. Villegas
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Two More Icons in Sports

           In my last column, I wrote about Lionel Messi as a sports icon that should be a role model for the human virtues of humility, simplicity and detachment from consumerism for the youth of today.  I would like to add two more sports icons to the list of models for the young.  The first one is still the reigning number one tennis player in the world today, Rafael Nadal.  Just like in the case of Messi, I had a few close encounters with this man from Manacor (the small town in Palma de Mallorca from which Nadal hails) while I was residing in Barcelona in 2007 and 2008.  The tennis club in which the Barcelona Open is played was just a few blocks away from the IESEBusinessSchool where I was teaching.  It was relatively easy to catch a glimpse of this famous player in that club where he has won the title numerous times.

          I have been following Nadal's career over the last five years and have been especially impressed with his friendship and rivalry with Roger Federer from whom he captured  the Number One position some three or four years ago.  Also just like Messi, Rafa's humility stands out in today's heady world of celebrities.  There is no word of triumphalism when he wins, as in the recent French Open where he managed to retain his Number One position, thanks to Djokovich being subdued by Federer and the latter losing to Nadal in the final match.  Nadal had only praises for his closest rivals. When he lost to Tsonga in the Queens, he offered no excuses and actually expressed his relief that he would be given time to prepare for the next important tournament in Wimbleton.  Having suffered from several injuries over the last year or so, Nadal takes every game one step at a time.  He manages to turn around a difficult situation by sheer grit and determination.

          Because he speaks a language akin to Catalan, the one spoken in Barcelona and surrounding cities, it is only natural that the people of Barcelona would claim him as they do FCBarcelona (Barca) in the world of soccer.  I have heard comments from my Barcelona friends who are more knowledgeable about tennis than I that, objectively Federer and Djokovich play better tennis than Nadal.  For example, in the recent final match at the French Open, Federer was clearly superior in registering aces.  Djokovich has beaten Nadal in most tournaments during the current season.  Nadal has managed to retain his Number One title by dint of hard work and persevering effort.  He never leaves things to chance.  He follows to the last detail instructions and advice of his coach, who is his uncle.  What he lacks in innate talent, he compensates for by patient practice and training.  He is indeed a model for the vast majority of young people who may not have extraordinary talents to excel in their respective fields of specialization but who can still reach the top by hard work and persevering effort.  In my more than fifty years as an educator, I can attest to the fact that those who have reached the top of their respective careers were not the summas or magnas but were average students who never stopped studying and improving themselves.  Nadal is their role model.

          The other icon I would like to cite is none other than the best boxer in the world, pound for pound, Manny Pacquiao. Here, I quote from an article written by Teresa Tunay six years ago, before Pacquiao attained his title of best boxer in the world.  What impressed me in the interview were the answers given by Pacquiao about the value of self-discipline, especially as regards illicit sex.  When Ms. Tunay asked him where else in his lifestyle would discipline be important besides in food and exercise, he quickly replied:  "Sex.  Sex is absolutely a no-no when I'm getting ready for a fight, which could run on for two, three months. . . . That's a regulation in boxing.  Sex weakens you.  In fact, some boxers are done in by their opponents' camp by using women as bait . . . .  They send you an irresistible woman the night before the fight.  If you have no self-discipline, if you are weak, . . . you'll be easily tempted, and that's the end of you."

            To the question, "How can you endure that?" he gives an answer that could have been lifted from a book on Christian spirituality:  "In whatever matter, when sacrifice is called for, one has to be patient.  If it's food, I just don't look at it anymore.  Our eyes are our Number One source of temptation...Rich food?  Of course, they all taste good, but if looking at them will just make me drool over them...why should I look?  So I refuse to look...Same thing with women.  What man would not want a woman?  But if looking at them would just make me long for sex, why should I look?  Self-control is necessary.  I just cover my eyes with blinders."  What depth of wisdom is found in these words of one of the most famous Filipinos today.  Keeping close watch of your eyes, of what you are looking at in today's erotic environment of billboards of practically naked women, pornographic websites, and provocative fashion is an act of discipline that will go a long way in cultivating the virtue of chastity, whether in the single or married state.  Chastity is very possible if only individuals are willing to heed the advice of Manny Pacquiao.  For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph