Hard lessons in life

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Let’s get something straight right here and now. We cannot measure a person’s success, worth or what they mean to the people around them by how much money they have in their bank account. 

While money goes a long way towards achieving some of our goals and aspirations in life, it is not everything. As they say, some of the best things in life are free.

Besides, when it comes to the issue of debts, who doesn’t have debts?

Individuals do, businesses certainly have plenty and nations all over the world run theirs into the billions. It’s the stuff that keeps the banking industry moving. 

Now why are we talking about money and debts on a Thursday in Samoa?

Well, the stories about the state of Jonah Lomu’s finances at the time of his unexpected death have become a major talking point around the world – even on these remote shores where the gentle giant was ever so popular. 

To be frank, it’s quite sad to see what has happened. It’s unfortunate that the image of such a great man has inevitably now been tarnished because of what has unfolded.

But here is the thing, the stories might have come as news to many of his followers but to some of us – especially those who knew the big man - it was hardly surprising. We knew it was only a matter of time.

And sure enough merely days after his burial – even well before the tears have dried up - Lomu’s financial woes have become an open book for the world to analyse and dissect.

The irony is that all this has happened as a result of an effort by people close to him to find ways to help his children. Regardless of the motives, something seems terribly amiss about this whole affair. 

It could be the timing of it (so soon after his death), it could be the way it has been portrayed by the media or it could be that most of us had a very different picture of the man. 

Perhaps we all thought Lomu was loaded. For good reason. We knew he was compensated fairly well during his playing days and even after with endorsement deals all over the world. We looked at the cars, the pictures of happiness and luxury in the magazines, we saw his lifestyle and we had this certain picture of him. It’s only natural.

Alas, what we know now is very different. 

But then the signs have been there all along that not all was well. Most of us would recall how shocked we were when Mrs. Lomu set up a Givealittle page a day after his death, calling on the wide world to help her raise Lomu’s children. 

I thought it was downright insensitive. Some of us said that if that act wasn’t desperation,we don’t know what is. Folks, we are talking about a woman who had just lost her husband, you’d think she’d be a bit more tactful, mourn a little but alas she was more concerned about money.  

That was the first sign – at least publically – that things were not well.

The question that arose at the time – and it has been asked again now that the issue has resurfaced - is just how much money is needed to raise Lomu’s children? Thousands? Millions?

Don’t get us wrong; Lomu was an exceptional human being. In some cases, he was bigger than the sport of rugby. That means there is nothing ordinary about his children either. 

But unless they already drive Mercedes Benz or have already bought the latest iPhones, we’re sure they can survive. And there are many generous people around the world who will no doubt be happy to lend a hand – should the need arise. 

The other option, of course, for Mrs. Lomu is what all normal parents do. That is for her to find a job, or perhaps go on the benefit, and raise them just like all little kids in New Zealand. We are not talking about children growing up in a slum somewhere in Africa. We are talking about New Zealand, a country that does a fairly decent job in looking after its citizens. 

Indeed, among the millions in New Zealand’s population, there are thousands of women like Mrs. Lomu who are raising their children on their own without the need to ask the world to help. That’s what normal people do.

Away from the mixed reactions created by the call to help Lomu’s family, the unfolding story of Lomu’s finances unfortunately is another sad reminder about a story we‘ve become very familiar with as Pacific people. That is our sports stars’ inability to control their finances.

Here in Samoa, we don’t need to look further than our very own David Tua. A couple of years ago, when Tua’s tangled finances were the subject of much media attention, a headline in The NZ Herald which read “$6m for one fight...and David Tua doesn’t even own his home” told a very sad story.

Yes, for a man who made more than $20 million in fight purses, just like Lomu, Tua lived in a penthouse paid for with money borrowed from the bank. This happened while his millions were going in all directions, some to people with no connection to Tua. When all was said and done, Tua ended up sleeping in a boxing gym at Onehunga. This is a story many of us are familiar with.

Reading through Lomu’s ordeal, Tua’s story immediately springs to mind.

And there are lessons here for everyone, including young people aspiring for greatness and the dizzying heights Lomu and Tua ascended to.

One of them is the need for sportspeople to get professional assistance in managing their earnings. That includes looking after their welfare and stashing away some money to take care of them when all is said and done.

There is also the need to be realistic about their earnings when it comes to dealing with the pressure from families and all other obligations most Pacific islanders are well aware of. Just because someone is a star doesn’t automatically make them a bank. We should remember that they too have responsibilities and perhaps way more bills to pay than us.

Lastly, they need to surround themselves with the right people, not leeches who only see them as bling bling and dollar signs. That’s what we think anyway.

What about you? Write and share your thoughts with us! God bless!

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