In Defence of Those Who Refuse to Pay Tribute to Maradona


In Defence of Those Who Refuse to Pay Tribute to Maradona

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

On November 30, as the rest of the Spanish football club Viajes InterRías FF team stood to observe a minute’s silence in respect for deceased football legend, Diego Maradona, midfielder Paula Dapena took a stand by sitting down. She was protesting against domestic violence – the footballer faced accusations of abuse after he was caught on a video hitting his girlfriend in 2014.

Despite his demi-god status on the football pitch, off it Maradona was a contradictory bundle of equal parts genius and ugliness. Accusations of drug use, cheating (on the pitch as well as on his wife), and even sexual assault followed Maradona everywhere he went. Dapena said that she would not stand for an abuser and a rapist if no minute’s silence was observed for his victims. Her gesture of solidarity made headlines, but it also invited death threats to her as well as her team-mates, as Maradona’s fans found it disrespectful to his legacy.

Our culture and society look down upon speaking ill of the dead, but if we must honour the memory of the dead and their contribution to the world, we must do so by telling the whole truth and not just the decorous, convenient one. Why must dignity be sought in their deaths while there was no dignity in their life?

A minute’s silence is generally observed to pay homage to those who are no longer with us. However, in a society where victims’ accounts against notable personalities are discredited, we hold no minute-long silences for the victims. Instead we attempt to silence them. Reactions such as death and rape threats to women for taking a stand against abusers — especially celebrities — has become a predictable trajectory. Victims, primarily women, have been criticised for their untimely and posthumous upheaval against sexual abusers.

When celebrities are posthumously lauded as heroes, highlighting only the spritely memories, it solidifies their image as angelic do-gooders.

The baseless idea remains that A-listers committing crimes, sexual or otherwise, are absolved of it after their death. It fails to take into consideration the lack of accountability while they were alive. When celebrities are posthumously lauded as heroes, highlighting only the spritely memories, it solidifies their image as angelic do-gooders. This refurbishing of the truth not only sets a precedent for other abusers but also cements the understanding that their actions are not tethered by repercussions.

The persisting age-old debate of art vs the artist opens a dialogue for consequences, but it fails to take into account the narrative of the victim. It does little to restore justice. Artists continue to gain benefits (monetary and laudatory) from their art and the limelight it garnered. They wield the power to manipulate, delegitimise and sideline their victims’ narrative and trauma. While alive, their privilege shields them from taking responsibility for their actions. After their death, by constantly focusing on their charitable deeds as a means of concealing the reality of their lives, their victims have no choice but to see the abusers celebrated, as we have seen in case of Maradona where obits continue to pour in but few point to his flaws and if they do, they mention them in passing.

The football legend is no exception. On January 26, 2020, celebrated basketball player Kobe Bryant died in a freak accident along with his daughter. The internet was rife with condolences and anecdotes about his glorious career. It is during this period that the 2003 rape accusation against him resurfaced. Everyone who came out in support of the victim faced backlash for “insulting” his memory. Even the rapper, Snoop Dogg, lashed out at Gayle King for bringing up the allegations on her CBS show. The conversation soon became about being in solidarity with the victim who must now watch her abuser being lauded as a hero.

Similarly, Michael Jackson was accused of sexual misconduct during his lifetime. When his victims legally pursued the case and sued Michael Jackson’s companies, it was dismissed by the court. While the works of these abusers were celebrated globally and exist posthumously, one must adopt a critical lens while observing them, for when we endorse their work, we endorse them as people. This is paramount because in this day and age of celebrity culture where they hone the platform to mould their own narrative, it leaves little room for the truth.

Maradona has left behind a legacy that any sportsman can only aspire to. With a World Cup, two Serie A titles, a UEFA Cup title, and many more to his name, his career has surely been illustrious. While we protect his image and his legacy, let us not forget to protect those who suffered at his behest. Maradona’s history of abuse and assault are as much a part of his legacy as his victories are. And that we must not forget.