Diego Armando Maradona died Wednesday at the age of 60.
Many of us have tales to tell about his genius, about his flaws, about his legendary burst through England’s defenses in the 1986 World Cup, and his other goal that day, a cynical punch of the ball: “The Hand of God.”
My friend John McDermott, long-time soccer insider (and player in a tough San Francisco league), an American now living in northeast Italy, often visits Napoli, the raffish city settled by Greeks long ago, known for its symbol, the scugnizzi, the street boys.
Playing for SSC Napoli, Maradona from Argentina found his spiritual home. The city of the scugnizzi understood him best.
John McDermott often visits Napoli, for subject matter, to teach photography, to enjoy the city.
On Wednesday, when word came of Maradona’s death, John send me some photos and he also wrote:
“Diego in his finest hour...the 1986 World Cup Final...RIP, Campeon. I first covered him in 1979 for Sports Illustrated, games against Holland in Bern and against Italy in Rome. He was a kid among men but was already acknowledged as an arriving superstar. There were to be many more occasions after that where I witnessed his brilliance first-hand.
“In his book ‘The Simplest Game,’ the distinguished soccer journalist Paul Gardner wrote, 'No player in the history of the World Cup had ever dominated in the way Maradona ruled over Mexico-86.'”
Of Maradona's legendary solo goal against England in that tournament Gardner described the run as “10 seconds of pure, unimaginable soccer skill to score one of the greatest goals in the history of the World Cup.” Such was his importance to Argentina that the country has just declared three days of national mourning. But he also belonged to Napoli and the southern Italian city is also in mourning. An ironic note, Diego died on the same day as George Best, fifteen years ago. If Maradona and Pelé were the greatest players of all time, Best was not very far behind them.” Photo © John McDermott.
You ask if I ever met Maradona. Sort of. To prepare for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the NYT Magazine asked me to write a profile of the stubby wizard who had hijacked the 1986 World Cup. I started doing my homework, as I wrote in my book, “Eight World Cups,” Henry Holt, 2014.
Somebody slipped me Maradona’s home phone number in Naples. I dialed the number and in my very modest Italian I explained my mission. A male voice at the other end immediately switched to a form of Spanish. All right. I switched to my limited Spanish. The man at the other end shifted back to Italian. He seemed to understand my message – I was a New York Times reporter, looking to interview Maradona – and he professed to take my number, and promised to pass it along. I did not get a call back.
In the spring of 1990, I went to Naples and with the help of Cristina, the very able NYT bureau translator/guide, I saw Maradona play, meshing perfectly with Careca, a Brazilian forward, the two of them as smooth and swift as a Lamborghini
Afterward, Napoli held a press conference in a room near the locker room. To my delight, Maradona himself materialized, his thick curls showing a touch of gray, an earring glittering from his left lobe.
After they lowered the microphone for him – geez, he was short – Maradona began answering questions.
That voice sounded familiar.
Son of a bitch. That was the voice on the other end of the phone, the guy who kept switching languages on me. Cristina said his guttural Italian, with an Argentine accent, was not bad at all.
The obits will tell the sad and probably even sordid tale of a genius who fell apart before our eyes, banished from the 1994 World Cup for having a “cocktail” of drugs in his system.
His legacy is contained in the video of one screaming South American broadcaster, witnessing the romp of Diego Armando through the English defense. Never mind the Hand of God scam. This goal was human soccer brilliance, genius on the fly.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.