Carl Frampton's generosity of spirit and not a boxing title makes him a true champion
Our politicians should follow Carl's example of grace under pressure and not dealing in low blows, writes Gail Walker
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same… Though it is rarely heard said in our world, where greatness is measured in medals and prizes, with victory, titles, fame and adulation, it is still patently true that greatness is how a man or woman meets with defeat, with loss, with the shattering of dreams. How they, quite literally, face up to immense disappointment.
And by that measure, Belfast's Carl Frampton is - even if he should never win another world title - a true great.
I've said it before in relation to Northern Ireland's sporting stars, in particular - our accidental heroes, if you like. How we load them up with expectation, not only of being winners in their chosen field but of personifying a whole tranche of personal qualities which many of the rest of us would struggle to emulate.
Nonetheless, it's quite amazing how many of those individuals have indeed managed to become genuine leaders; and that what started as a sudden and starry personal career has, in so many cases, become a vast reservoir of pride, inspiration and goodwill right across the barriers in our society.
So we can celebrate that, even after his bruising 12 round points defeat to Leo Santa Cruz at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, in spite of it, through it, by means of it as much as by means of his generosity in victory, and though the Tigers Bay fighter is no longer a champion on paper, he has, by every other measure, emerged as a greater figure for us all.
Many would have hidden away from the spotlight, or emptily attributed their defeat to this or that "injustice" or misfortune.
But that isn't Frampton's way. His first tweets after what must have been a heartbreaking loss showed him to be a truly class act and were a lesson in magnanimity: Santa Cruz "was clever and he used his reach well … I think he deserved to win, being honest."
He even tweeted the man who out-fought him on the night: "A great fighter & even better man. We have to do it again. Congratulations champ."
He has that indubitable hallmark of greatness - grace under pressure. He acknowledged the unpleasant truth that on the night Cruz was the better of the two, and allowed himself to look towards a future third bout with the new champ. The idea of going back to square one doesn't faze him.
The courtesy and goodwill this young man from Tigers Bay displays is a testimony not just to his own spirit but also to those who helped to mould his personality: his parents, Craig and Flo, his wife Christine, his manager and coach, Barry and Shane McGuigan.
And thanks to their influence Frampton emerged, remarkably, a bigger man for his defeat.
Few here wouldn't be moved by the pictures of Frampton mingling with the 5,000 NI fans who had made the long, and costly, journey to Las Vegas. There was the 29-year-old - his bruised, puffy face a testimony to the brutality of the scrap with Santa Cruz - being photographed with pints of Guinness and telling fans "We'll get him back, I promise".
That 'we' was no mistake. It shows that he knows that it isn't all down to him, that the fans' emotions can be just as valid as his, that they are a part of it all.
In showbusiness terms, this was what Elvis called 'taking care of business' - looking after the people who show you such respect and admiration.
It's also what Freddie Mercury neatly summed up in the lyric ,'You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it, I thank you all'.
Of course, strictly speaking, Frampton did it himself - all those hours spent training since boyhood in a tough working class area, pulling himself up by nothing other than his own graft, determination and ambition.
But Frampton is also astute enough to recognise the very special contract that he has with his public - and he honours that most precious of bonds in good times and bad times.
Frampton reflects us at our best. Open, honest and endearingly modest, he is a symbol of what we can aspire to be.
All this, of course, is in marked contrast to the way our politicians comport themselves. All too often they are narrow, self-righteous and profoundly non-reflective.
Though they officially espouse 'inclusivity', 'togetherness' and all the other buzzwords, there is no 'we' in their hearts. There is the timeworn 'us and them'.
Some may see the comparison as a bit of a stretch, but I think there's a lesson.
For we expect so much from our sporting stars and so little from our politicians. Every time a sportsman or woman steps up to a microphone they are conscious of the full range of the population out there waiting to hear what they have to say for themselves. They know they represent more than their own selves, their own sport, their own perceived background. They represent all of us.
And that is a conscious choice they make. They are aware of the make-up of the travelling support and the people back home. And they know it's diverse. Whereas it seems a rule of thumb that every time a politician here has something to say, the audience being addressed is their own sort. And they make a virtue of that fact.
The poet John Hewitt wrote that true patriotism means 'keeping the country in good heart'. Frampton, in his own way, does precisely that.
But do our politicians? Over the past few weeks, has there been a single instance of a hopeful word, a generous gesture or a positive outlook from any one of them?
No. Instead, it is the usual sorry sequence of gouging words and low blows all round.
Who would you be prouder to be photographed with - Carl Frampton or your local MLA?
And that is not just because of the aura of sporting glory. It's because Frampton shows that he takes his responsibilities to 'the people' as of the utmost importance. Even in defeat, he manned up and refused to back away from doing the right thing. He takes his duties - and by extension, us - seriously.
And that is why he will always be a heroic figure here in a way our 'leaders' never will.