Jan 12, 2012 0
When one of their number peeps above the parapet to talk about their emotions and vulnerabilities, sporting folk like to call it “brave”. There was plenty of bravery on show in Freddie Flintoff’s documentary on depression in sport, The Hidden Side of Sport, last night on BBC1. It takes extreme courage for anyone to expose themselves to Flintoff’s interview technique:
Graeme Dott: I think I’ll be on them [anti-depression] pills forever. I’ve tried to come off them, and I’ll gradually fall into a horrible …
Flintoff: Are you enjoying your snooker now more than ever?
Man on an Arsenal scheme to tackle depression: I was diagnosed properly when I was ten or eleven, with depression. I’ve always been pressed with suicidal thoughts.
Flintoff: How did it feel?
The rest of the programme was similarly frustrating. Flintoff spoke to various sports names – Ricky Hatton, Vinnie Jones, Barry McGuigan, Shane Warne – who all agreed that feeling bad was bad. Some, like Jones, had personal experience of depression, but their views were never placed in a wider context, and the whole thing quickly devolved into Comic Relief-ish meaninglessness. I found myself more interested in Ricky Hatton’s loft conversion than in his lows after defeats. Maybe Flintoff was too, as he troubled Hatton with the tester:
When you got your gloves in your first professional fight, did you think you’d have all this?
When things did get edgy, the programme was anything but brave. Flintoff claimed throughout that he was “doing it for Steve”, his friend Steve Harmison, who spoke very movingly about his own depression at the start of the programme. But when he was asked (by Piers Morgan – yes, it was that sort of programme) about his own culpability in Harmison’s difficulties – he was England captain when Harmison was struggling with depression; why did he pick him to play? – Flintoff was shocked. Nothing wrong with that – a bit more shock, a bit less cosy banter, and we would have had a better programme. But why was there no follow-up? Did Flintoff regret his actions? What would he have done differently? What did Harmison think about it? We never got to find out. It was anecdotes only, Match of the Day meets Piers Morgan’s Life Stories.
The express point of these programmes is to promote understanding. What they actually promote is toleration, superficial acceptance. I suspect that in five years time, Steve Harmison will be thinking: “I told the nation about my depression, because I thought it would make a difference. And everyone was very nice and told me how brave I was. Then they went back to ignoring me, or treating me like I was a bit strange.”
Link to programme on iPlayer (available until 18 Jan)