Bend it like Beckham, off the pitch
I have battled with myself over the past few days, about David Beckham. It seems everyone is right on his latest off-field "stunt", although everyone has a different opinion. Reading all the comments might send you on a soul-searching roller-coaster ride. One minute he's a saint, albeit a considerably flawed one, and the next minute he's just a cunning mega-rich sportsman who doles out peanuts from his salary into a grandiose act of generosity.In case you've missed the story, the 37-year old, the world's highest paid soccer player, has signed a short-term contract with Paris Saint-Germain of the French League 1 and will donate all of his new salary - the equivalent of millions of baht per week - to a children's charity. Whether this is kindness, or shrewdness, or for tax purposes, or all of those resons combined, opinion is divided into "What a fake" on one side and "He helps the kids. Who cares how?" on the other.
We all want to "bend it" like Beckham, but do we love to "share it" like him? The answer, from what I have gathered, is yes. That is where the criticism against him - and also the support for him - comes from. Beckham is not sincerely charitable, critics say. He is just like anyone who wants to be seen and applauded when stopping to pick up an injured, helpless puppy off the road.
In other words, a real saint doesn't call a press conference to announce the donation of a minuscule part of his wealth to underprivileged kids. Here's a quote provided from a British writer who virtually chopped Beckham to pieces: "A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog."
"You are jealous," the other camp screamed. Here's a quote that I like: "If I had donated 1 pound for every time I've heard 'I donate to charity but I don't talk about it' before launching into a Beckham rant, there'd be no more homeless people."
This school of thought doesn't mind the underlying desire to be appreciated or recognised after helping those in need. Starving children would die if they had to wait for perfectly selfless donations. Get off your high horse, the critics are told; Beckham could simply keep the money.
He could misspend it, the critics shot back. There are few PR stunts as cheap and brilliant. It is money well spent, pure and simple. Be happy for the kids, but quit calling it a great, selfless act. And wake up, too. If Bt10 million a week for a few months looks staggering, remind yourself that here's a man whose estimated net worth is above Bt10 billion. And that's without his wife Victoria's earnings.
So, what is the bottom line? Is it "he could just keep the money" and let hard-to-please critics go on wondering why he never shared it? Or is it simply vanity dressed up as charity, equivalent to people like you and me calling a press conference to announce a Bt1,000 donation to an orphanage?
Maybe it's just an imperfect man making an imperfect gesture in an imperfect world.
Both schools of thought are probably right. The press conference wasn't exactly a good idea, but the money to the kids, regardless of Beckham's real personal fortune, is. Nobody gets hurt, and some needy children will benefit. The concept of "charity" has been somewhat muddled.
Or he may just have bent the principle of philanthropy a little bit. Or going with the flow may have been all he has done. While few people in the world can bend a free kick like David Beckham, he and most humans are more or less the same where charity is concerned. He and most of us are too imperfect to not advertise good deeds, one way or another, when we do them.
Should we praise him? One side insists that if we do, the concept of throwing bones to dogs will one day completely overshadow the nobler one, which advocates sharing them with the dogs when you are also hungry. The other side says being a real saint can wait, but poor children can't. What's wrong if Beckham is to teach - or confirm what countless others have been teaching - that charity can be win-win?
The debate continues. On the pitch, Beckham was born to inspire. Off it, there have been obscenely expensive haircuts, sexual affairs and donations that critics claim serve him more than they do needy kids. Whatever it is, and whether it's good or bad, or right or wrong, it seems David Beckham's real-life goal also needs a lot of bending. And we can probably say that much.