AFP (T-L), Twitter (T-R), Reuters (B-L), Reuters (B-R)
Mick and Michael Schumacher and Arjun and Sachin Tendulkar are two famous father-son duos in sports. Image Credit: AFP (TL), Twitter (TR), Reuters (BL), Reuters (BR)

Sometimes a name hangs heavy and sometimes it allows you to reach greater heights. Here Gulf News explores the drawbacks and benefits of having a famous parent, and the impact thet can have on the offspring who attempt to step out and make a name for themselves. 

From Bradman to Tendulkar – when famous surnames hang heavy

- Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his maiden century for India
Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his maiden century for India Image Credit: BCCI

Kolkata: It’s not easy to be in the shoes of Arjun Tendulkar, the 21-year-old rising talent with the most famous surname in Indian cricket. While the son of the Master Blaster had been no stranger to trolling on the receiving end of memes ever since he was named in the Mumbai junior squad, things took a rather nasty turn after he was roped in by reigning IPL champions Mumbai Indians in the min-auction last month.

‘Why him?’ was the question, at a time when the anti-nepotism sentiments have been riding high in India. The Mumbai Indians brought him in at a base price of Rs 2 million and senior members of the team’s think tank - Head Coach Mahela Jayawardene and Zaheer Khan, Director of Cricket Operations - made it clear that Tendulkar Jr has to earn a place for himself in the playing XI on merit. In a well-settled team like MI which boasts of names like Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah or Hardik Pandya, it will certainly not be easy for the well-built left-arm medium pacer to break through.

Still, the tongues will never stop wagging for his surname. A point to ponder here is if it’s a crime for the young man, who presumably after seeing his dad rule the game as the world’s premier batsman, picked up a cricket ball in hand? Those who have seen Arjun grow up can vouch for the fact that Tendulkar used to make him give throwdowns for hours at a time at the nets of Lord’s in London, and other venues around the world. While Tendulkar has understandably kept quiet on the social media campaigns against his son, his friend and former India star Vinod Kambli - who had coached Arjun in Mumbai Premier League - spoke out on what he felt was 'unfair'

Sachin Tendulkar and son Arjun in Dubai

It’s a fact that Arjun has not been able to set the stage on fire either with the ball or bat so far - but the cut-throat competition that Indian cricket sees now means he has to cool his heels in the dugout if he is not good enough. It’s as simple as that. Mind you, he was not a part of his state squad in the just-concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy, the official 50-overs tournament, where Mumbai emerged as champions.

A famous surname, be it in sport or entertainment, can cut you both ways - and it can often be more acute in these parts of the world. Ask Rohan Gavaskar, the only son of India’s master batsman and opener Sunil Gavaskar. An attacking left-handed batsman and a handy spinner, Rohan initially failed to make the cut in the Mumbai squad and moved to Bengal, where he led the state squad as well as the East Zone team for several years.

Now 44 years of age and a popular name as a TV pundit, Gavaskar Jr was not quite successful in the 11 ODIs that he played for India, but was quite a useful allrounder by all means. One can remember how sensitive a subect his famous surname was during his playing days and even last January, he struck back with a witty comment in the face of some tasteless trolls: "My Ranji average is 51-plus, and I am still the face of nepotism in the country."

The problem, however, seems to be unique for sons with super-achiever fathers as they inavriably suffer in comparison. The likes of a Stuart Broad, England’s senior paceman with over 500 Test wickets, is hardly referred to as Chris Broad’s son anymore. There are, however, few examples of the sons being unaffected by their father’s legendary status in respective countries - like Hanif Mohammed’s sons in Pakistan or Shaun Pollock, the South African allrounder, who went on to outshine his father Peter.

The biggest example of the surname proving to be an Albatross round the neck, however, happened with a non-cricketer - the great Sir Don Bradman’s son. A lecturer in constitutional and environmental law in the University of Adelaide, Bradman Jr was so haunted with the Australians being obsessed with his surname and requests for media interviews (which he always declined) that in 1972, he changed his surname with an affidavit to John Bradsen.

There was media speculation many years later that he eventually changed his surname to ‘Bradman’, which he steadfastly denied - choosing to stay in oblivion!

Dreams are crucial in sports, but at what cost? Players can't lose sight of what matters

- Marwa Hamad, Assistant Editor

We’ve seen it a million times before in questionable American movies. A demanding father wants his high school son to become the next big baseball batter or the star football QB, whose celebrity gets him served for free at the local diner. The kid, desperate to make dad proud and afraid of what will happen if he doesn’t, shuns his own dreams. But oh, how hard it is to ignore what your heart really wants. Cue the son exploding in dad’s face: “It’s your dream, not mine!”

Despite it being a tired cliche, there’s a psychology behind all of this. Overbearing sports parents often want their kids to chase after their own unfulfilled and dormant dreams — or sometimes, continue their legacy so they can live vicariously through them.

There are positives to having a parent whose done it all before. You learn discipline and you have a sounding board in the form of a loved one with valuable experiences, who can also be your support system and help you avoid the pitfalls they fell prey to.

But the negative outcomes are clear as day, too: fear, anxiety, self-doubt, anger, resentment, the feeling of never being good enough, as well as overly high expectations and pressure that can drive a rift between both parties.

Every relationship between athlete son and dad is different. Ups, downs, love and frustration are par for the course in any family, famous or not.

The Rock and father Rocky Johnson
Rocky Johnson and son 'The Rock' Dwayne Johnson Image Credit: Twitter

For Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, accomplished wrestler turned Hollywood actor, his relationship with late father Rocky Johnson was “complicated”.

“It was incredibly complicated and it was incredibly tough,” said the Rock. “The relationship that I had with my dad was incredibly complicated — that was fueled by tough love,” he added.

In a 2017 Instagram post three years before Rocky died, Johnson explained the kind of man his dad’s “tough love” turned him into.

“Back when I was a punk kid, my dad would take me to the gym on weekends and kick the [expletive] outta me in the weight room and on the wrestling mats. He’d say, ’You didn’t get up early to come here and give half-[expletive] effort. Leave it all in the gym,” he wrote.

“When I became a pro wrestler, that was part of my nightly pre match prayer. Asked for the strength to leave it all in ring - whether I was wrestling in flea markets or sold out stadiums.”

Last year, Johnson spoke about carrying his legacy forward. But it didn’t seem to be a burdensome admission, rather one of pride, loyalty and comfort.

“January 15, my dad died suddenly. Gone. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to him. That's a tough one to reconcile,” he said. “So this idea of legacy and what that means, not only leaving a legacy, but sustaining it, and how much more can we push the legacy along, how much more can you expand it, where you can take it. Legacy.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, meanwhile, took issue with the frequent comparisons to his athlete father.

 Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel reacts.
Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel

The 34-year-old Danish footballer has lived much of his life in the shadows of Peter Schmeichel, considered to be one of the best goalkeepers of all time. And even though Peter retired 18 years ago, Kasper is still dealing with what it means to be his son.

“[A fan] said, ‘You’re doing well, you’ll never be as good as your dad, though,’” he recalled, in an interview. “I said, ‘Mate, you don’t think I’ve heard that before? I’ve heard that for, what, the last 15 years. Well, you’ve had your laugh. So, can I leave please?”

Brett Hull meanwhile has long had to reckon with an openly fractured relationship with his Hockey Hall of Famer father, Bobby. While the younger Hull is today credited as one of the best snipers in hockey history — with the fourth-highest goalscoring record in the NFL — he badly wanted to quit hockey growing up. But he couldn’t get away.

“Sometimes things are supposed to happen. What happened to me is not thanks to anything I did. Believe me. It must be a blood thing,” said Brett, whose so distant from his dad that he’s previously admitted he doesn’t even has his phone number.

“If they want to compare me to him, that's fine, I can't do anything about it," Brett told the Washington Post. "I've already come to terms with that.”

Brett Hull
Brett Hull Image Credit: AP

But, that doesn’t mean he cares for the comparison. “I didn’t see a lot of him as a kid. As famous as he was, he didn’t want to go to the public rink and get mobbed by everyone," he said.

Washington Post reached out to Bobby for a comment in that same article. And what came back was quietly heartbreaking.

“I went away when I was 14 to play hockey with guys 20 years old. You had to grow up fast,” Bobby said.

"I see Brett, oh, three or four times a year. He and the rest of the kids are getting to the age now that they don't have to see their mummy and daddy all the time."

Then came the advice, still laced with expectations — an ‘I’m proud of you, but’ statement.

"Consistency is the mark of a true professional," said Bobby. ”Tell him that I'm proud of him, but that he needs to apply himself."

Why do children follow in their parents footsteps?

Dwayne and Simone Johnson
Dwayne and Simone Johnson Image Credit: Agencies

Have you ever been around a child that speaks like an adult, perhaps imitating their mum or dad for laughs? They might pretend they're on a business call, or worse, they could curse up a storm when you least expect it. It's what they saw the adults do and say, after all.

As the saying goes: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” But why is that? Why do children often follow in the footsteps of their parents? In many cases, our parents can be our first — and biggest — role models.

After all, not only did The Rock take after his dad Rocky, but his daughter Simone is now entering the WWE too. That's three generations of fighters at the very least.

Research points us in several directions. Sometimes following after your guardians can be a cultural and societal expectations; if mum is a doctor, her daughter should be too. Sometimes it’s down to nature — something in your DNA — while other times it’s down to nurture, such as the behaviours, ideas and examples you are exposed to growing up.

Following a path blazed by a parent can also be born out of a desire to connect with, and maybe even impress, someone you put on a pedestal.

Perseverance is a skill that can picked up by toddlers who are barely over a year old, studies show. If babies see their parents give up easily, they might become pre-disposed to do the same. But if their parents are determined, dogged and resilient in their race for results (all qualities that are present in successful athletes) then children are more likely to pick up those characteristics, too.

That can partially explain why, when a child grows up, they are sometimes — though not always — attracted to similar hobbies, interests and even career paths as their parents were.

In Science Mag ten years ago, Gisela Telis broke down a study that concluded that children will ‘overimitate’ adults, regardless of where they’re from.

“Whether they’re preschoolers from Australian suburbs or Kalahari Bushmen, children copy adults to a fault, according to a new study,” wrote Telis. “The findings suggest that overimitation—in which a child copies everything an adult does, even irrelevant or silly actions—is a universal human trait that may contribute to our complex culture.”

When having famous parents goes right: Bonds can be strong

There are a few athletes who speak of a positive relationship with their famous fathers — and some of them even act as best friends and confidantes.

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — who is technically Aubameyang Jr — has a close relationship with dad Pierre-Francois, who was capped 80 times with the Gabon national team and played for various French clubs.

Auba often posts Instagram stories of his father - now affectionately known as 'Aubemyang Papa' - with the two of them laughing, joking and riding top down around town together. According to reports, Pierre Sr was instrumental in Auba’s decision to stay at Arsenal this month.

Ken Griffey Jr is another example of a father-son duo flourishing together. Griffey Jr and Sr became the first dad-and-kid in Major League Basketball to play for a singular team at the same time.

The year was 1990 when the Mariners’ squad included a 20-year-old Griffey and his 41-year-old dad, who called it “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“We’ve become more like brothers over the last four or five years. He’s asked me for a lot more advice than he’s ever asked before,” admitted Griffey Sr.

Ken Griffey Jr
Ken Griffey Jr Image Credit: AP

And while heartbreaking, Mick and Michael Schumacher’s story somehow transcends sport altogether. 21-year-old Mick, who’s currently gearing up for his first ever Grand Prix, has found a way to connect with one of motorsport’s greatest record-breaking figures: his own father.

Michael, now retired, suffered a sever brain injury in 2013 while skiing and was placed in a medically induced coma until June 2014. Later that year, he moved into private rehabilitation. Ever since, he has stayed out of the limelight and his condition has not been made public knowledge.

His son, however, is ready to follow in his footsteps. “One of those lessons [from my father] is to stay steady, never get too high, or too low,” he wrote in a moving letter last year.

Mick Schumacher, son of former multiple Formula One champion Michael Schumacher. Image Credit: AP

“I realised fairly early on that I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver, a champion… I’d used different names to sort of race undercover, improve without too much of the notoriety of being 'my father's son,’” he admitted.

“But, honestly, I don't feel any pressure to carry on the family name or do exactly what my father did. Most of the stress comes from what I put on myself, thinking about what I did wrong and how I can improve.

“People saw the magazines and ‘famous’ parts of my dad, which I totally understand.

“I get it. I mean, he ran off five straight Formula 1 championships the year after I was born, and it's incredible, right? But I [never looked] at my dad only as the 'world's greatest driver’.

“He always, first and foremost, is my dad. I do not take the lessons he's given me for granted.”

Blood ties run deep in motorsports: Schumacher not the only one with big shoes to fill

- Matthew Smith, Sports Editor

Michael Schumacher

The world of motorsport is synonymous with family ties, from Italians Enzo and Dino Ferrari — who revolutionised racing with the famous red ‘Prancing Horse’ back in the 1920s — to three generations of Andrettis — Mario, Michael and Marco — who have dominated the tracks in America and beyond for more than 50 years.

Now we are starting a new chapter in famous families behind the wheel, with one of the biggest names in racing’s modern era: Schumacher.

Mick Schumacher is the son of Formula One great Michael, who won seven F1 Drivers’ Championship titles and 91 races in a glittering career. The 21-year-old German is set to follow in some big footsteps this season as he marks his first campaign on F1 with Haas.

Mick already has trophies in the cabinet: he celebrated his impending move into F1 by clinching the F2 title at the season-ending race in Bahrain last year. He made his bow behind the wheel of the Haas car during Friday’s free practice sessions of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, and has been testing in Bahrain this week ahead of the season opener at Sakhir Circuit on March 28.

Mick Schumacher
Prema Racing's German driver and winner Mick Schumacher celebrates with his trophy on the podium after winning the Formula Two championship race of the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring circuit in Mogyorod near Budapest, on August 4, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Tragedy tinges this tale. Michael in 2013 was on the piste with a then 14-year-old Mick in the French Alps when he seriously injured his head in a fall, which left him in a medically induced coma with brain trauma. While Michael survived — he continues his rehabilitation in the privacy of his own home, working on communication and basic motor skills — young Mick is now ready to step out of his shadows and carry on a rich motorsports legacy for the Schumacher name.

It will be no mean feat in a struggling Haas car, but should he impress, it will only be a matter of time before he, just like his father, will be making headlines with the Ferrari team.

Like his dad, Mick is not one to shy away from pressure, including wearing his name with pride. “I am very proud of it,” he said at the 2021 Haas launch. “It is a boost for me and it gives me motivation every single day to work as much as I can and work as hard as I can.”

While the Schumacher saga is the most recent family connection in motorsport, there are a few other definitely worthy of note.

Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve

Jacques Villeneuve on the podium with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard

French-Canadian Gilles was regarded as one of the most talented F1 drivers, with a natural gift for spotting an opening and knowing when to pounce on an opponent’s mistake. Another famous Ferrari product, he notched up six F1 wins from 67 starts, including his debut home Canadian Grand Prix in 1978. He finished second in the 1979 drivers’ standings before tragedy struck and he died in a crash during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix.

“He has not gone. The memory of what he has done, what he achieved, will always be there,” said former teammate Jody Scheckter.

Little did Scheckter know that Villeneuve’s name would also live on through Gilles’ son, Jacques.

His father’s death did nothing to quell a hunger for racing in a young Jacques. Only two years after Gilles’ death, Jacques had set out on a journey that saw him make a name for himself across various tours in Canada, Europe and the United States. Triumphs in the IndyCar World Series — including the 1995 Indy 500 — took him to F1 with Williams in 1996. Jacques excelled in his new career move and claimed the 1997 F1 Drivers’ Championship (following some famous and infamous tussles with a certain Michael Schumacher), to ensure a true legacy for his father’s name.

Graham and Damon Hill

Graham Hill Image Credit: YouTube still

Between them, the Englishmen make up the most successful father-and-son pairing in the history of F1, as they have claimed three Drivers’ Championships between them. Some 30 years before Damon was making waves, Graham Hill was making a living as a mechanic at Team Lotus. After lots of begging, he was given a chance to prove his worth and the rest is history. He took his F1 bow at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix on a Monte Carlo track where he would eventually notch up five of his 14 victories. Graham still has his own special place in history as — along with his Drivers’ Championship crowns for BRM and Lotus in 1962 and 1968 — he also claimed the 1966 Indy 500 and the 1972 Le Mans 24 Hours, becoming the only driver to ever claim the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport. ‘Triple Crown” of motorsport.

Graham also died young as he was killed in a plane crash in 1975 only months after his F1 retirement. when Damon was just 15.

His father’s death meant Damon, a keen racer, had to take the long road due to financial difficulties, but a twisting journey that began on two wheels in motorcycle racing at 21 took another 11 to reach Formula 1 in 1992. But patience paid off and after just missing out to — guess who — Michael Schumacher in 1994, Hill claimed the crown for Williams two years later, completing a decades-long circle begun by his father back in 1958.

Carlos and Carlos Sainz Jr

Carlos Sainz Image Credit: AP

Remarkably, this father-son duo are both still active — despite dad being the ripe old age of 58.

Carlos Sainz Sr is one of rally’s greatest racers, with multiple titles in the World Rally Championship and Dakar Rally, while his son — also Carlos — will be beginning his sixth Formula 1 season, his first with Ferrari alongside Charles Leclerc, and will be aiming to build on a promising career with two podiums to his name so far, having previously driven for Torro Rosso, Renault and McLaren.

The Al Qubaisis

Khaled Al Qubaisi with his daughters Amna and Hamda
Khaled Al Qubaisi with his daughters Amna and Hamda Image Credit: Supplied

Closer to home, one family who are setting new trends are the Al Qubaisis, with father Khaled and daughter Amna teaming up to secure the Formula 3 Asian Championships team and drivers’ titles earlier this year at Abu Dhabi Racing’s home track on Yas Island. ADR Team Principal Khaled is already making plans for the future, and he is definitely keeping it in the family.

Al Qubaisi was beaming with father’s pride as he discussed his 20-year-old daughter Amna’s progress since her karting days and her plans for the future.

“What she has done has been beyond my wildest expectations,” he said. “She came through karting here, and showed her potential by winning the GCC Championship — the only girl against 11 boys. And she just hasn’t stopped. The only setback was the coronavirus pandemic, which meant she hadn’t had enough time to get ready for Formula 3 in Europe, but her being here was perfect as we managed to get her in for F3 Asia and she blew me away.”

As if having one champion driver for a daughter wasn’t enough, Al Qubaisi also has plans for Amna’s younger sister Hamda, who has also tasted karting success and is making moves up at the age of 18.

Despite the family successes — Al Qubaisi himself is a world rally winner and 24 Hours of Dubai champion — he still has another dream. “I would love to see all three of us — myself, Amna and Hamda — competing as a team here in F3 next year,” he told Gulf News. That is certainly one way to keep the family name at the front of the grid.