There are times when even the most ardent of pro sports fans could be forgiven for wondering about the logic of it all.
Whether it be the unchecked greed so prevalent at the top level, unpalatable off the field headlines generated by stars, the morally vapid trend of ‘sports-washing’, or the existential crisis looming regarding the toll taken on the bodies of the protagonists; there are too many times of late when it can all feel like it’s leaving an unwanted taste in the mouth.
If sports are a mirror of society, then the visage staring back is often ugly.
And yet what keeps so many coming back, through the turnstiles or in front of their television screens, was on full display in the Premiership final on Saturday afternoon.
In sport, like life, setbacks are inevitable. Some are bigger than others.
Few athletes will know what it takes to weather a storm like Freddie Burns did back in 2018.
Then, the brother of Ulster fly-half Billy, became something of a punchline for rugby fans after the clip of him celebrating what would have been a key try for Bath against Toulouse in the Champions Cup only to have Maxime Medard sneak in from behind and dislodge the ball before it was grounded went viral.
Its impact was such that it achieved something even the very best of tries usually fail to do — it made ripples outside the often insular rugby world.
On the front page of a national UK newspaper’s sports section the next day, Burns’ distraught face was accompanied with the rebuke ‘Tears of a Clown.’
Throw it into Google even now and you’ll be presented with a list of headlines including ‘shocking’, ‘embarrassing’, ‘hilarious’,’ howler’ and ‘nightmare’.
It’s virtually forgotten now but that non-score would have had a relative redemptive quality itself, coming as it did after Burns had hit the post with a relatively straightforward penalty minutes beforehand in a game Bath would lost by two points.
Just as that is is rarely recalled, it is lodged in few memories that only a few months later Burns was man of the match with a 19-point haul against Wasps in a game that offered a more fair reflection of his ability. Even the five caps he won for England seemed to pale into insignificance when compared to those brief few seconds the player must have longed to strike from the record.
One can only imagine how it feels to see your life’s work, and all that it has taken to reach the top of your field, reduced to so little in the public’s thinking.
Looking back in 2019, Burns offered an insight into the impact of it all in a social media post to mark World Mental Health Day.
“You’d have thought that playing rugby in front of 16,000 people, surrounded by fellow professionals/friends and being on live tv that it would be impossible to feel alone,” he wrote. "Well, just under a year ago and due to my own mistake I felt exactly that way.
"With my job being open to scrutiny I was always going to take stick for it, I expected nothing less and take full responsibility with what happened. However, whilst people and some pundits (not all) inevitably kept reversing the bus that I had thrown myself under and as I sat in my living room in the pitch black with nothing but a Corona (or two) for company, the “are you ok” messages started to come through...meant the world.
"I like to think I’m a mentally strong person but without doubt the fact that family, friends, strangers and people from our sport took time to check in on me meant a lot and made bouncing back a lot easier than it potentially could have been."
Quick to credit others then, he deserves immense praise himself now for finding what was needed to re-write his own story. By stepping up take on the 79th minute drop goal that beat Mark McCall’s Saracens and won the league, Burns ensured that, against the odds, his career will come to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Even in this moment of redemption, what happened at The Rec was not far from his mind, mentioned in interviews not long after he’d draped the winners’ medal over his shoulders.
Shaped by the past but enduring to emerge better in the future, now Burns will go down in Leicester Tigers lore, a roll of honour that includes plenty of English rugby’s most famous names.
His drop goal deserved to be cheered far beyond the confines of the east midlands. It was the very best of sport.