The Only Truly Serious Philosophical Problem

« Il n’y a qu’un problème philosophique vraiment sérieux : c’est le suicide »

Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe.

(“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.)

I haven’t been publishing much lately. One issue is that I’ve gotten all the queued-up ideas out. All the things I’ve been saying and thinking, have pretty much hit these pages. Now I am working on new thoughts and they arrive when they arrive.

Another problem is that I have a few posts half-done but I’m having trouble getting them out. For example, I wrote there are three types on players: the Schemer, Stalwart and Star, and I published pieces on the first two but not the third. I realize no one is aware of this but me but still.

But the big post that’s sitting in the chute, constipating the flow right now is about Gary Speed’s suicide.

A lot of what I write takes a couple of little concepts and puts them together in a cute fashion, creating a possibly new three-sided idea,  like a tortellino. They are my attempt to be clever and provide a little insight in the intersection of soccer, coaching and life overall. But sometimes a topic arises that has no pat answer and there’s no cute ending. Such is the case here. 

Gary Speed, 42, was an record-holding  professional player, held the MBE, and an up and

Gary Speed 1969 - 2011

coming coach of the Wales National Team. Wales had been enjoying a surge of  success recently and all looked rosy for him. But late in November he hanged himself and no one seems to know why.

Martin Samuel talks to the unknowability of what really happened here. But he isn’t alone. Last month Babak Rafati, a German referee, tried to kill himself on the eve of a pro match he was to officiate.Was it football-related? One thing we know is that the magazine Kicker  named Rafati “worst referee” three different times in the past six years. He has since come forward with a diagnosis of depression.

And there are other examples; former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu killed himself in his California home after a successful career in Japan and with the Yankees. American skier Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, silver medal winner at the Vancouver Olympics took his own life  but there were factors which possibly made him more pre-disposed to it.

When faced with a tragedy like Speed’s death I think it’s human nature to try and make sense out of it, but in this case nothing seems to fit. There are three previous examples of suicide and their reasons that I think of here.

Justin Fashanu: shame and persecution

Justin Fashanu was perhaps the first iconic suicide of a young footballer. Born in February 1961 he died in May 1998 by his own hand after falling out of the game due to scandals relating to his sexuality.  Fashanu fought two prejudices because he was gay and black. Some surmised that a similar scandal was in the shadows of Speed’s life; a rumor went around that he may have been a closeted gay or bisexual, but there has been no further proof of this. There is also some tin-hat thinking that Speed was embroiled in something worse. The theories include that he was a victim of pedophilia. But there are no credible sources for these ideas. The site that has three posts on mysterious factors behind his death leads off today with “Seven US Presidents Were Zionist Pawns” and another, “Planes Hitting Twin Towers Were Computer Graphics” so take it with a grain of salt.

Fashanu couild not get free of the accusations and prejudice he engendered. If there was some similar dark secret in Speed’s life, it went to the grave with him. Anything more is conjecture.

Robert Enke: depression

Before Gary Speed, the most shocking example of footballer suicide was probably the Robert Enke story. Enke was a professional goalkeeper who took his own life in 2009 while at the top of his game. He’d had a spell at Barcelona and was the #1 for the German national team. But although he played at the highest levels he was still racked with self-doubt and anxiety. He also battled with depression exacerbated by the death of young daughter. Despite having a father who was a sport psychologist, he could not get control of his demons.  His father explained, “During the most critical phases, Robert would have fear of the ball being shot at his goal,” he explained. “He had attacks, he didn’t want to go to training, he couldn’t imagine standing in goal.”

He hid the fact he was depressed because he became afraid that the information would be

Robert Enke and his daughter

used to take his second child from him and his wife. He ended his life by standing in front of a train at the age of 32.

There is no evidence that Speed suffered from depression, as Enke did, but many have written pieces suggesting this was the case, like this one and this one, among many more.

Richard Cory: existential despair

If there is no other explanation for Speed’s suicide it might have been similar to the legend of Richard Cory. After the Robert Frost poem it was reprised in a song by Simon and Garfunkle:

They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
With political connections to spread his wealth around.
Born into society, a banker’s only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.

The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he’s got.

He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch,
And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,
So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:
“Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.”

Richard Cory killed himself because he lived a life empty of challenge and engagement. He was born into affluence and never knew what it was like to identify a goal and achieve it. Could this have applied to Gary Speed, who set records in the Premiership and took his national team from mediocrity to the verge of qualifying for the Euro championships? It’s hard to see it.

But we try to understand Speed’s death and its cause. I think it is because we need to draw a circle around it and put ourselves on the other side. If he had a dark secret, or  depression, and we don’t, then we can feel safe that we won’t suffer the same fate. But what if it was due to none of these reasons? Could it mean that suicidal ideation is something that can happen to any of us?

As I said in the beginning, this is a post that doesn’t wrap up neatly. It’s more question than anything else. Everyone who loves football will miss Gary Speed. But no one may ever know what happened.

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2 Responses to The Only Truly Serious Philosophical Problem

  1. Joanna says:

    A sentence in a book that was a lifeline for me when I was trying to grapple with severe chronic depression (organic in origina, screwed-up brain chemistry) was this: “Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” David Conroy’s book “Out of the Nightmare – Recovery from Suicidal Pain” is treated with wariness by some professionals who don’t like his approach, but it spoke to me in a way that made sense when I was teetering on the edge. I didn’t want to die, but it seemed more and more impossible to live any more in the black pit of despair and pain from which there seemed to be no escape. For many reasons, people are unable to get or use the resources that might help them cope, recover, treat their depression. Tor some, this is situational, and can be overcome. For others, it is a disease for which there must be some kind of treatment or it will kill you. Whenever I hear about seemingly inexplicable suicides, I just remember what it felt like to feel as if I couldn’t make it through the next ten minutes. I was fortunate, I had people who helped me get the help I needed. I’ll be on meds for life, but they have restored me to my real self, the self that experiences joy, hope, and pleasure as well as every other feeling. One of the biggest barriers to getting that help is shame. I’ve since learned that there is a long, sorry history of severe depression in my father’s family for which the medication of choice was alcohol. A little knowledge and understanding of depression, without shame or stigma, could have helped us all so much. If I’m lucky, I won’t have passed this on to my child, but I’m alert to the possibility.

    • abroshar says:

      “I want to tell you that you have given me complete happiness. No one could have done more than you have done. Please believe that.
      But I know that I shall never get over this: and I am wasting your life. It is this madness. Nothing anyone says can persuade me. …”

      Virginia Woolf wrote those words (among her last) to her husband. I’ve read a lot about this subject, and her words come closest to how it feels.

      Thanks for your words, Joanna. A topic this freighted with the rage of so many survivors is a tough subject. People don’t want to understand it — either because it’s never touched them and it’s scary, or because it has and they’re angry. But to have been there and lived, that’s something. It’s everything.



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