Column #442 Eric Bristow was right – Phil Taylor must go!

Friday, February 1, 2013
Column 442
Eric Bristow was right – Phil Taylor must go!

There’s not a one of us involved in darts, recreational or professional, steel or soft, that wasn’t taught early-on that ours is the sport that “begins and ends with a handshake.” This basic tenant has been the unshakable rock at the foundation of our sport as it has struggled throughout the decades to gain the respect of the masses. Whatever else has tarnished, fairly or not, the image of the game and held it back – its pub origins, drink and smoke, gamesmanship, the slovenly attire and physique of some players – the handshake has stood firm. Dart players are what they are, but at the core we are good sportsmen and women. We respect the game.

Maximums and laser-perfect finishes are not what make darts great. Sportsmanship is. He or she who disrespects the sport does not belong in it.

In my couple of decades of involvement in darts nothing has impressed me more than parents like Larry Gallagher, Ron Wilcox, Tom Stewart, Dan Lauby, Mike Broderick, Bobby George and even Eric McVay. They have taught their children the game – Miles and Shannon Gallagher, Steven Wilcox, Ashley Stewart, Danny Lauby, Alex Broderick, Richie George and Kurtis McVay are great shots, have already achieved much, and have tremendous futures ahead of them – but their futures aren’t just in darts. Their parents have also taught them the most important lesson. These kids have learned and value the importance of sportsmanship and respect. They respect the game. They respect themselves.

It’s a tough lesson in today’s society. We worship champions. We want role models. Perhaps to some degree fan worship pushes our stars beyond their honest capacity – to lie and cheat and to a level of arrogance that emboldens them to think they are more special than they are.

USA TODAY’s Tom Weir recently observed, “For generations… there has been a non-stop message that sports stars are a beacon of light worth following… but we started to reconsider whether that allegiance should be undying when O.J. Simpson became better known for answering to murder charges than for dashing through airports in Hertz ads. An earlier wake-up call came when Pete Rose’s “Charlie Hustle” nickname took on new meaning because of his gambling. Now, entering a new decade, glorifying sports figures as role models has never seemed more suspect. Mentions of having the eye of the tiger generate snickers about Tiger Woods’ adultery scandal. Mark McGwire’s confession that he took steroids has shrunk the awe once held for his soaring home runs. Michael Vick’s dog-fighting crimes sickened a nation that suddenly was confronted with the gruesome aspects of an underground blood sport. Marion Jones was stripped of her Olympic track medals after admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs, and figure skater Tonya Harding has become synonymous with villainy since playing a role in the assault on rival Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Olympics.”

There are so many more. Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ben Johnson, Mike Tyson, Denny McLain, Shoeless Joe Jackson and now, of course, Lance Armstrong.

All of them champions. All of them former role models. All of them self-entitled. All of them disgraced by their own actions. All of them fallen.

There are those – the late Sid Waddell at the top of the list – who have long-touted now 16-times world champion as the best darts player “ever to draw breath” and still others who believe he should be ranked as the greatest sportsman of all time. It’s as impossible to argue with the former as it is to agree with the later – where names like Ali, Jordan, Ruth, Phelps, Pele and so many others – all who respected themselves and their sport – come immediately to mind.

Phil Taylor does not belong in this group. What he’s accomplished can’t be denied. He is the greatest ever. But his actions, both on and off the oche, earn him a solid place on the list of those who disrespected themselves, their fans, their friends, their families and disgraced their sport.

A decade or so ago, after a two-year cover-up, Taylor was convicted of “fondling” and “groping” a couple of 23-year-old girls. At the time, five-times world champion, Eric Bristow, called for Taylor to be “banned” from our sport. He was right.

A couple of years ago – on live television – Taylor pinched the rear end of a walk-on girl after pulling his darts. Chatter on the web was incessantly negative and rightly so. Something should have been done. Nothing was.

Then, just a month ago, again on national television and beamed around the world via YouTube, Taylor blatantly disrespected five-times world champion, Raymond van Barneveld, and our sport that “begins and ends with a handshake” after winning their semi-final world championship match. As disappointed as he was to have lost, Barneveld was gracious in defeat. He bowed his head, collected his thoughts, and with outstretched hand approached the victor with congratulations. Taylor was a pig. Although he later apologized (adding a flimsy “excuse”), when asked about the incident afterwards his response was that “nothing happened.”

Take a look. Does it appear to you that “nothing” happened?

I ask you Larry Gallagher, Ron Wilcox, Tom Stewart, Dan Lauby, Mike Broderick, Bobby George, Eric McVay and anyone else reading these words: is this man, as great as he may be at throwing a dart, the kind of person you want your children to emulate? I ask you Bruce Spendley, Barry Hearn, Dick Allix and Tommy Cox: were you not embarrassed? Does anyone think Sid Waddell would not have been ashamed?

I ask: is this man, as great as he may be at handling a few grams of tungsten – this convicted fondler and groper, rear end pinching and disrespectful of the very foundation of our sport, the sort of role model or ambassador that our sport – our sport that has struggled so long to gain respect – needs?

I say not. And if my e-mail, voice mail, Internet chatter and a recent Dartoid’s World poll are any indication, a whole lot of people feel likewise.

But is there more? Some suspect there may be…

Since the Taylor vs. Michael van Gerwen world championship final, Dartoid’s World has been running a poll. The question: Did something seem odd to you about the Taylor vs. van Gerwen world championship final? The vote was evenly split. That is telling.

Let me piece together the essence of the matter. These are not my words – they are a chronological cobbling of the actual words of others. I have taken literary license to paraphrase in some instances and make minor edits in others.

The short story: van Gerwen races to a 2-0 lead… Taylor looks defeated but bounces back to tie the match… van Gerwen pounds ahead again 4-2… then Taylor wipes the floor with the Dutchman. Classic? Perhaps. Probably.

But given Taylor’s history of self-entitlement, history of playing fast and free with the truth and his rapidly declining “quotient of respect” among those who are in awe of his game but disgusted with his arrogance, it’s not surprising that there is an undercurrent of mistrust. What’s most disconcerting is that this mistrust – which stems from the man himself – is casting dispersion on his opponents, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and more often on the sport – and all of us who are involved…

Was the match fixed?

Was the van Gerwen loss actually a carefully choreographed dive?

Let me be clear: I personally do not for a moment believe that van Gerwen threw the match. But what I and others can’t help but wonder is if Taylor played us all, again. And because of Taylor, van Gerwen – an absolutely amazing young talent – is tainted.

The lead-up

“There’s lots of talk about Taylor’s age. Taylor contemplates retirement in an earlier round post-match interview. There’s the newly-created Sid Waddell trophy – a well deserved honor to a man who was second to none in his profession. Taylor wants it. Waddell was to Taylor as Howard Cosell was to Muhammad Ali. Blustery. Cocksure. Correct. Far more than anyone on the planet, including Taylor himself, Sid Waddell made Taylor a household name in the darts community. The final will be Bruce Spendley’s last match. Taylor has called the legendary announcer and referee (with a career spanning three decades) his best buddy in the world – so he has to send Spendley out on a victory. And then there’s the on-stage semi-final tussle with big, lovable Barney. Was this contrived perhaps to stir the pot and draw more attention than ever to the Holland vs. England, van Gerwen vs. Taylor final?”

The bout

“Pure Rocky-esque drama! Taylor looks old, nervous, and tired – perhaps preoccupied, hoping to overcome the backlash and embarrassment of his after-match clash with Barney two nights before. Will he be able to overcome all of this and the sheer scoring power of the youngster that has beaten him in their last few meetings – and who almost threw back-to-back perfect games earlier in the tournament? In a flash, van Gerwen pounces on his old, already beaten victim… a shell really of the has-been “Power.” Taylor’s getting beaten by the brash, loud, bald, bad-guy-looking phenom Dutch kid. The camera zooms in on Phil’s face… the worry, the nerves. It’s over. Sid Waddell’s ghost isn’t going to make an appearance this day. And Bruce Spendley – poor Bruce – will surely have to exclaim, “Game! Set! Match! Michael van Gerwen!” Dear God, just let it be over… WAIT! Taylor’s fighting back! It’s like he’s looking to Heaven for the spirit of Sid Waddell and Sid is there for him! (Cue finger-point to Heaven after a big score… check!) He’s taken the lead and suddenly all of his experience is paying off! It’s got to be the experience! He’s got so much experience… at throwing darts… at a board… better than any human has ever done any activity in the recorded history of man. Not only is Taylor suddenly hitting lights out (and everyone seems surprised… really?) but he’s actually wearing down – like physically, wearing down – a 23-year-old dude that thrives on adrenaline. Really? Is this the best explanation the announcers have for van Gerwen’s sudden inability to hit triples?”

The finish
“BAM! Down goes van Gerwen! Down goes van Gerwen! Taylor wins! Taylor wins! As God is our witness… Taylor wins (wiping tears of joy).”

The aftermath
“Oh the joy! Oh the emotion! Hug Spendley. Sign the board to him! Blow a kiss to Waddell in Heaven above! Shake hands with everyone! Say something nice about everyone you can think of, especially the kid in the green shirt who surprisingly doesn’t seem to be very upset. Not at all – in fact, looks like he’s Taylor’s biggest fan. He looks a lot like a kid who not only pocketed ÂŁ100,000 for second place, but also someone who is on the cusp of banking a whole lot more of the PDC’s monies.”

And there you have it. Darts fans sharing darts thoughts…

Some think it was real: half that responded to the Dartoid’s World poll. Almost certainly it was just another incredible performance in an incredible Phil Taylor career. But then there are the conspiracy theorists… those who think there was something odd.

Some think van Gerwen took a dive.

Others think Taylor scammed us, that he played with van Gerwen like a cat with a mouse, amped up the drama to pad his persona – that the result was never in doubt.

It’s a shame that there is such speculation. But the reality is what it is.

And there’s the rub…

Phil Taylor, as brilliant as his career has been and all that his accomplishments at the line have brought to the rebound and growth of our sport worldwide, is no longer an asset to darts. His unrivaled perfection at the board is rivaled by his flaws as a human being – and this is detrimental to the future of the sport.

Stanley H. Teitelbaum, author of Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side: Sex, Drugs and Cover-Ups, points out that “sports stars need to realize the public is no longer uninformed or naive about what goes on after the competition ends.” He continues, “…in the world of sports, there’s a price to be paid for fame. We will applaud you, we will adore you, but the other side of the Faustian bargain is that your private life is really not private anymore. You have to be willing to sign on for that side as well.”

When your private life (a conviction of fondling and groping young women) spills over to your public life (inappropriately touching a walk-on girl) and your public life becomes blemished with despicable displays of poor sportsmanship (the Barney handshake) – and you lie – the result is that even when you may be completely innocent of something else (gaming us in the world championship final), you will be questioned, doubted and mistrusted by some. It’s the price you pay for letting your arrogance destroy your credibility.

Yes, that’s the rub. We all have flaws. But we aren’t all world champions. We aren’t all the main face of darts in the world.

But we are all role models. We are all ambassadors for the sport. We all have a responsibly to uphold the highest of standards from handshake to handshake…

…and to expect – no, to demand – no less from our heroes.

From the Field,
Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.

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