Saturday, October 9, 2010

You big dummy

Cheer Grow up, Charlie.

Not so along ago, Charlie Davies was the Next Big Thing in US soccer. After a standout career at Boston College, he passed on MLS and chose to start his time as a professional in Scandinavia with Swedish side Hammarby. His gamble paid off as he received national team call-ups and a move to French club Sochaux, making his star turn as the US finished runner-up at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore were already known quantities, but the speed, finishing and combination play Davies showed left US fans dreaming of an Altidore-Davies strike partnership that would terrorize defenses for years to come.

That all came crashing to a halt on October 13, 2009, in Washington, DC. Davies was a passenger in an SUV that suffered a one-vehicle accident at about 3:15 a.m., a crash that killed one passenger and left him with injuries that threatened both his life and his career.
Davies broke the fibula, tibia and femur of his right leg (stabilizing the limb required insertion of two titanium rods); tore a ligament in his left knee; fractured his left elbow, eye socket and nose; suffered serious head trauma; and lacerated his bladder. Nobody knew if he'd play again. Except Davies.
Two primary emotions arose out of the incident. There was sorrow, of course, for the family of the young woman who died and at seeing one of the country's brightest prospects come so close to having his career and life cut short. Lurking deeper, though, was concern about why Davies was on the road at 3 a.m. the night before the national team's final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. True, the US had already sown up a place in South Africa, but the chances of coach Bob Bradley telling his players to enjoy a night on the town is about equal to those of him calling me up to play in central midfield.

(If you're reading, coach, my passport is at the ready.)

The outpouring of support Davies received was stunning. Teammates, fans and the US soccer community united in support of the striker as he struggled through rehab, pushing himself to regain fitness in time to make the World Cup roster. His attempt was unsuccessful, with Davies initially lashing out at Sochaux before eventually coming to his senses, but his recovery from coming so close to death and return to high-level club soccer still made for an inspiring story. It felt like the kind of narrative in which you could invest yourself -- even if Davies never played for the US again, you could admire his comeback from a tragic, youthful indiscretion as he attempted to carve out a successful life and career.

Then he goes and does something like this:

PARIS -- A French newspaper is reporting that American forward Charlie Davies, who nearly died in a car crash last year, was caught speeding at 125 miles per hour last weekend.
The website of Le Progres newspaper reported Friday that Davies was driving an Audi Q7 last Sunday when he was caught on a motorway in France's Jura region.
My thoughts after the break.

This is yet another example of why I hesitate to heap praise on athletes and build them up as role models for their accomplishments on the field. They're flawed, broken people who suffer from bad judgment from time to time, just like the rest of us. All the talk of perspective and increased focus suddenly rings hollow.

The inimitable Jason Davis sums it up well. It's just disappointing to see Davies return so quickly to the same destructive behavior that nearly cost him his life. The last thing you want to hear is Mitch Albom warbling on about yet another "dream deferred" when Davies wraps himself and his car around a tree one late night.

(I'd rather not hear Mitch Albom at all, but that's a post for another day. Isn't that right, Mateen?)

Davies will continue his comeback, though he won't be as much of a cause celebre. He'll still have his supporters, even if they won't be as many or as fervent as, say, Dan LeBatard. When Davies does make it back into the national team fold -- and I still think he will, even if it doesn't happen for another year or two -- he'll receive a warm welcome from supporters and teammates alike.

Behind that welcome, though, will be a tinge of trepidation. Does Charlie finally have his head on straight, or is there another moment of tragic stupidity lurking around the corner?

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