Rio Ferdinand has shocked the sporting world by announcing he will attempt to become a professional boxer at 38 years of age.
‘It’s all about testing myself’ and ‘I still miss that competitive edge’ are the soundbites that you would expect. A bored former football player who seeks a new challenge, the spotlight even. However, the one thing that stands out for me is his positive attitude in trying to tackle the grief and torment which have recently overshadowed his life.
Having tragically lost his wife and mother of three children Rebecca following a courageous battle with breast cancer in 2015 and more recently his mother Janice St Fort in summer, again to cancer, it is a great testament to his will and determination that he has chosen to deal with his grief so publicly. The former Manchester United defender wants to channel his aggression and set himself a new life goal as he navigates the desperate abyss and loneliness following an emotional couple of years.
The cynics and there will be many will just look at this as a money grab, after all, he is being ‘renumerated’ by Betfair as he tries to obtain a professional boxing license from the British Boxing Board of Control. Masked under his vague, generic responses of missing football, the laughter of maybe fighting Anthony Joshua and the comparisons with Andrew Flintoff’s debacle in the ring lies his true motivation. The need to regain a semblance of self-worth and equilibrium after losing his mother and wife.
The former Manchester United defender is looking to channel his aggression in the most positive way and that is to be commended. As they say, you play football, but you do not play boxing. Talking from a personal perspective, boxing provides a wonderful outlet for those suffering from a personal tragedy. I only hope that amongst all the flashing lights and hoopla generated from the media, sponsors, and naysayers that he manages to overcome his demons and find peace.
Grief and depression are unrelenting. You can try to escape from your real or imagined fears – but they’ll catch up with you eventually. As Billy Conn found out to his own detriment when he tried to trade leather with the great Joe Louis in the thirteenth round of their epic heavyweight battle in 1941 – You can run but you can’t hide!
Ferdinand has proven recently that he wants to challenge his grief head-on and has even offered help and support for others who are suffering. In a world of negative trolling and contempt for those seeking new challenges in life or a machismo world of a man trying deal with his emotions, maybe, just maybe we can actually applaud his intentions to test himself in the hardest sport of all. After all the parallels between life and the noble art will invariably challenge a man or woman’s every fibre and also their ability to overcome the most insurmountable odds. The key is to keep on getting up when life knocks you down and most importantly keep on fighting.