Monday, September 15, 2008

Fair-weather fans and foul Franz

Yesterday at the Araneta Coliseum, when it was becoming painfully obvious that the Red Warriors were going to lose to the Blue Eagles in the UAAP semifinals, some supporters in red started getting up to go home, even though there was still a lot of time left on the game clock.

Looking across to the gradually emptying UE gallery, in spite of my jubilation that my team was leading by more than 20 points, I felt sincerely sorry for the Warriors. Sure, they weren't playing well (veteran player Marcy Arellano was held scoreless for the entire game), and realistically they couldn't catch up to Ateneo anymore. But it was to be the Warriors' last game of the season, and the last UAAP game for some of their players, including Arellano. You'd think the UE crowd would have the decency to stick around and see their team through to the bitter end. All they did for 2 hours was yell and clap and wave Samsung foam fingers and Accenture banners. Those kids on the floor-- and make no mistake, a lot of UAAP players are still kids-- played 15 physically, mentally and emotionally grueling games this year, fighting for the pride and honor of their school. At the very least they deserved to be applauded after the alma mater hymn had been sung. Sure, losing is no fun, and hanging around seems pointless when the sad outcome is inevitable, but imagine how the Warriors felt at the end of that match. And imagine how they felt when they saw their supporters trickling towards the exits.

Desertion happens to be a hot topic of conversation amongst the UAAP faithful this season, what with La Salle head coach Franz Pumaren's abandonment of the RP Youth team in Tehran in favor of the Ateneo-La Salle match last Saturday. With the Philippine squad out of contention in the tournament, Pumaren decided it was more worth his while to be in Manila coaching the Green Archers who still had a shot at winning rather than fulfill his duty as coach of the national team whom he already considered a lost cause. Whatever flimsy and cheap excuses Bigote came up with (won't even open THAT can of worms), he had a professional, moral and not to mention patriotic obligation to stay with the Youth team. Just because their remaining games were non-bearing didn't give Bigote the right to bail on them. Besides, wasn't Pumaren the one who doggedly recruited these players and convinced them to give up opportunities to play in the NCAA and UAAP in order to represent our country? Doesn't he owe them something for their loyalty and trust? Moreover, what kind of values is he teaching his young players? Winning is not everything, it's the only thing?

Perhaps someone should tell Pumaren that when a ship is sinking, the captain is always the last man to leave, not the first to jump into a lifeboat and leave his crew for dead. When it came down to a choice between fighting and fleeing, he took the coward's way out. By leaving those kids in a lurch, he wounded their morale, betrayed their confidence, and set a terrible example for all sportsmen and sportswomen.

Maybe it's because I was once a teacher of teenagers, maybe it's because I'm the daughter of a former national athlete, but I truly feel for young players representing their school or country. The long hours of training they put in, the juggling act with their studies and social lives, the enormous pressure placed on them by their coaches, family and fans... it's often a thankless pursuit. If they don't perform up to par, they get criticized, cussed at, mocked, jeered, or accused of game-throwing. If they do deliver, very few receive the kind of fame and adulation Chris Tiu gets. So is it really too much to ask supporters to hang around another 10 minutes in order to show their respect and appreciation for their players' efforts, even if they come up short?

And is it really too much to ask the coach to hang around and finish his effing job?


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