This is a heartbreaking story because for all I know I saw him numerous times as I traveled through Newark Penn Station, where he evidently spent his nights. And I can say from experience that the men and women who spend their evenings keeping warm in Penn Station are a destitute and pitiful bunch, for whom life has been neither easy nor pleasant.
Sacko, 75, had died at St. Michael’s, in Newark’s Central Ward, on Sept. 17, homeless, penniless and almost anonymously.
But a half-century ago and an ocean away, George McDonald Sacko, aka “Wizard,” had a country at his feet.
An elegant and agile midfielder, Sacko had captained the Liberian national soccer team into the 1960s, when the nascent squad supplied the unifying thread to a country fraying at the serrated edge of tribal and political strife.
He had groomed his game barefoot, kicking tennis balls with older boys in the dusty streets of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. He attended a prestigious high school and befriended government ministers. He had a future president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate as a girlfriend, and played for the country’s best club teams.
“He was flashy,” said June Nwanna, who became his wife and the mother of his two sons. “He was very popular. All the women wanted him.”
Within two decades, those strands of glory and adulation would unspool like so much gossamer.
In the end, Sacko was wandering Newark’s streets, and spending his nights at Penn Station.