Those of us who have lived the life of an elite athlete know that it is by no means an easy road. Whether walking the weekly cut-throat tightrope of the AFL, training with lonely single-mindedness for four years in preparation for one Olympic moment, or hurling oneself into the teeth of the Dundas Valley under-14s forward pack, it takes a special kind of person to achieve the elite level of physical endeavour.
Which is why, of course, ordinary people find it so hard to understand when a great sportsman does something a little "unconventional" by everyday standards, and we see the kind of headlines we’ve seen lately, with words like "drunken", "assault", "rape" and "dribbling muscle-bound retard" being tossed around like so much premiership tickertape without the slightest regard for context or natural justice or beep tests.
Now it is true that sexual assault, or the bashing of girlfriends, teammates, sponsors, and complete strangers; or even leaping about on top of other people’s cars, are not, in ordinary circumstances, the most socially acceptable activities. But it’s important to look at all the facts in these frequent isolated incidents.
Let us look at some wise words that were once spoken by one of Australian sport’s most muscular thinkers, premiership player, Brownlow medallist and multiple tattoo recipient Ben Cousins. When speaking about his drug addiction, Cousins made the very pertinent point that "I deep down don’t think I really had a choice in terms of the very things that make me a great footballer are some of the things that lead me to fall into those sorts of traps".
I think we would all do well to take that on board. The very things that made him a great footballer also made him a drug addict. And it is the same with any of the recent victims of gotcha journalism trying to make an honest living on the field.
Let us look at Brett Stewart. So, allegedly, having been made the "face" of the National Rugby League’s advertising campaign, Stewart went along to his club’s season launch, drank himself into a state of near-unconsciousness, was asked to leave, and may or may not have engaged in various sexually-oriented, assaultesque activities with a young lady to whom he had taken a shine earlier.
Now, of course one would not normally condone such alleged unsanctioned friskiness, but context is everything here, because it can be easily seen that the very things that make Brett Stewart a great footballer are also the things that lead him to get drunk and allegedly leap upon teenage girls.
You see, to be a great footballer takes a certain amount of discipline, a hefty slice of determination and passion to succeed. That singular drive to extract the very best out of oneself is what separates the Brett Stewarts of the world from, for example, people like you, who have, with the best will in the world, achieved basically nothing in life. And it is that very singular drive that causes unfortunate misunderstandings like the abovementioned.
One can hardly expect the will to win to be quarantined to only one aspect of life. You can’t encourage a lad to exert every sinew in the pursuit of that extra on-field edge, and then expect him not to similarly bend his iron will to the pursuit of that extra beer or whisky or grope. It’s the same principle, differently applied. Indeed, scientists, working hard to isolate the "football" gene, are now of the opinion that it is in fact one and the same as the "rapist" gene. You cannot argue with science.
After all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and if one may think of an NRL premiership as the ultimate omelette, the young lady in question becomes a fairly minor egg, does she not? Do you remember the celebrations for Manly’s victory last year? So many people, so happy that their dreams had been fulfilled. If you consider it in terms of net happiness, isn’t the pure joy of such a great number of people worth the occasional rape? I know that I would happily get raped if it would bring about happiness for thousands of people. Wouldn’t you?
Or take Nathan Bock. This simple country lad grew up with one dream: to ply his trade in the AFL and garner a generous boot sponsorship. He achieved his dream thanks to diligence, attention to detail, and a God-given gift for punching from behind. How many glamorous full-forwards have reached for the tumbling pigskin, only to be denied by that mighty Bockian fist scything over their shoulder and pummeling it to safety? There is a visual poetry to Bock’s fist-work that is almost Byronic.
And yet we again see double standards. The crowd goes wild for a Bock who punches balls with all his might, but the cheers turn to bitter, bigoted boos for a Bock who allegedly punches women, even though there is strong evidence to suggest that on the day in question, his girlfriend Carlie was acting a lot like a football, a sure recipe for confusion in the mind of the average footballer. To be frank, she was lucky he didn’t pick her up and kick her to open space. In fact, if only more women would be grateful for not getting kicked, the sporting world might be a lot more harmonious.
All I’m asking for is a little bit of understanding. A little bit of consideration for these lads who, through no fault of their own, have been given godlike powers, and who are not being properly respected for it because they have been following their perfectly normal, biological, violent instincts.
Look, I know things have changed. Sport is not like it used to be. Gone are the days when players would troop off the field at halftime and be handed half an orange, a piece of two-by-four and groggy stripper to refresh themselves with. Gone are the days when Jack "Captain Blood" Dyer used to win grand finals for the mighty Richmond Tigers fuelled by fresh cocaine snorted from the nipples of a Fitzroy streetwalker. Today the members of the all-conquering St George side of 1956-66 reminisce fondly about the annual post-Grand Final virgin sacrifices.
Obviously, those days, however enjoyable they may have been, are past. Standards are different.
Which is why it’s so frustrating that when someone comes up with a way to address the problem, the press pounces upon them. Look at the North Melbourne football team, savaged in the relentlessly PC football media for their whimsical short film The Adventures of Little Boris. What a way to treat a group of fine young men who had finally found a way to constructively channel the natural urges of the elite athlete!
I ask you, what better way for a fit young man, full to the brim with equal measures of love of sport, passion for victory and desire to take his pants off and crack some skulls, to release his tensions, than with a bit of amateur filmmaking? The potential for a nationwide education programme is enormous. We could have used Boris to teach these young men how to use simulated puppet-sex to avoid the judgments of today’s wowserish, assault-unfriendly society.
Think of the lawsuits obviated, the criminal trials rendered unnecessary, the cunning gold-digging temptresses thwarted as they find the targets of their wily lure-him-into-thumping-you-and-then-pretend-you-weren’t-gagging-for-it schemes heading off to film a cheery orgy between six strips of bacon and an eight-inch Dorothy the Dinosaur. Those innovative North Melbourne boys may, with just a rubber chicken, a frozen chicken and some homegrown ingenuity, have saved Australia’s sporting landscape.
But no. Instead we got a media frenzy, full of moralising and pontificating and point-missing and thin-lipped columnists who couldn’t tell a pinpoint pass from an up-and-under, who wouldn’t know a well-timed handball if it jumped up and rubbed Dencorub on their thighs. Rather than embrace the opportunity to creatively solve the disconnect between the elite athletes’ immutable psychological constitution and the desire of the general public to stay out of hospital, we as a society have decided to cast our young warrior-kings adrift with nothing but opprobrium and scolding and vague noises about maybe cutting down on the hitting people in future.
We may as well tell the bird to stop flying, the wolf to stop hunting, the camel to stop vomiting.
And so we will continue to see the very finest in our society cut down and humiliated time and time again for doing nothing more than following the wholesome, healthy practice of running, jumping and kicking to its logical conclusion of getting drunk, punching someone in the face and triple-teaming a probably-willing lass in a toilet cubicle. For doing nothing more than what comes naturally.
Congratulations Australia. You’ve just kicked a big goal — for stupid.