If you spend any time looking at the list of American basketball players doing their thing abroad — and there’s no reason why you should — you’re more or less guaranteed a couple of “oh wow” moments. As fans of teams or programs, the constant churn of personnel (that is, people) on and off of rosters enforces a serious foreshortening of our memories. Marquis Estill almost made the Philadelphia 76ers a few years ago, but he didn’t stop playing basketball after that didn’t work out (he’s in the United Arab Emirates); and this is true of the legions of Korleone Youngs and Matt Friejes and Rodney Whites and whoever else you might remember for your own reasons — their careers (that is, jobs) don’t expire with their 10-day contracts, they just get moved to China.
In contrast to the drudgery of our (my) day-to-day, the kind of travel and compromise required of people in pro sports doesn’t necessarily seem that bad. It’s just that, at all but the highest levels, there’s an extraordinary amount of travel-you-would-rather-not-do and ridiculous compromise required to make these already time-limited gigs sustainable. There is no perfect job, I’m saying. You already know this, and probably don’t need to be reminded. But Stephen Constantine’s life, as described by Jeff Opdyke in a story for the Wall Street Journal, is an interesting reminder of how extremely onerous pro-sport dues can be, especially for those with the least to lose.
Constantine is a coach who specializes in turning around national soccer programs, and has had great success in elevating ultra-moribund national teams in Malawi, India and Nepal into respectability. Constantine’s goal is a coaching gig in the United States or the UK, but this particular round of establishing himself means that the 46-year-old lives apart from his wife and daughters — who live in Cyprus (naturally) where he once coached (double-naturally) — and currently resides in… Sudan. Where he is trying to turn around a national soccer program in a country that has something of a genocide problem.
œI seem to get the really tough jobs others don™t want, Mr. Constantine said while his team trained on a Tunisian beach. œPeople back in England say I™m dedicated and brave to take these coaching jobs, but I don™t see that. It sounds corny, but I feel privileged making my living doing what I love”building football teams.
A key test for Sudan comes in a World Cup qualifier Saturday , when African powerhouse Ghana visits Khartoum. Few expect Sudan to slay a four-time African cup winner that qualified for the last World Cup and multiple Olympics and is stacked with athletes playing throughout Europe™s top leagues. Then again, Sudan has home turf. And in the last home qualifier in March, the Desert Hawks, with five players who had never played internationally, tied significantly higher-ranked Mali.
Even for Mr. Constantine, his new assignment is like no other. Sudan is blanketed by dire travel warnings that include threats of land mines and terrorist attacks. Just days after his arrival, the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. British Embassy personnel urged Mr. Constantine to skip his first match for safety concerns. He ignored the warning.
So, yeah, working on the payroll of a guy convicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity is probably tougher than a gig that involves having Wally Matthews agitating self-amusedly for your firing. But it’s a living, I guess. It’s worth reading the whole piece.