Our Champions

BarbariansI might be biased but on Saturday I witnessed one of the toughest team performances I’ve ever witnessed or been a part of in forty years of watching and playing rugby. Our University of the Sunshine Coast Under 12s team is a rag tag mob of boys drawn from nine or so local schools. I get the privilege of being their trainer – part of a coaching team of four guys (and sometimes I wonder if the kids or the coaches have the most fun).

We’ve had a really good season. Rain meant we didn’t get a training session in before our first trial so we’ve steadily built momentum and cohesion as the season has progressed. We finished the season in second place, in the process beating every other side in the competition at least once.

But going into our knockout semi final against the third place Brothers, we knew we were in for a massive game. They’re a very successful team who have been top two for the past three years. We’d beaten them earlier in the year but they were injury depleted then. Now they were coming at us full strength.

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A mirror to our own failings?

The NRL/AFL/Super 14 drones on and, as per usual, is blighted by numerous scandals involving young footballers running amok.  The latest is allegations of a Year 12 student in Melbourne impregnated by one of two AFL players who met her at a school coaching clinic. 

Predictably this is followed by another outpouring of public outrage at the actions of these highly paid professionals crossing so-called moral boundaries.

It gives me reason to pause and consider the spotlight we place on these young footballers and the expectation we put upon them to be ‘role models”.

Do we not all know of friends, relatives, children and nephews that indulge in similar behaviour without the full force of society’s outraged being pressed upon them?

Yet we expect the best of men who have often been pulled directly out of high school, given a pay packet many times that of their peers and an abundance of time with little to occupy them?

We expect something from these men because they have been assigned the roles of “hero” in our society.

These days there is a growing shortage of genuine heroes in many of the major institutions of our society. Who is there to inspire honour and emulate in some of our major institutions?

In politics the debate seems to focus upon the lies told by our leaders, the broken promises and the influence of major companies and interest groups. Where are the Wilberforces that doggedly sought after legislative change in the abolishment of the slave trade?

The institution of the church has been diluted by frequent scandal involving sexual and financial abuse and a growing lack of clarity in its message. The Catholic church is mired in paedophile priest allegations.  Where are the great inspirational leaders such as Jesus Christ, whose teachings have shaped the world for the past 2000 years?

Where are the heroes like Luther that railed against the abuses of the church from within or the Wesleys that would inspire large crowds through the power of their oratory and the sacrificial example of their life? Are there any religious leaders of today that will inspire movies in the future?

Even our military heroes are besmirched by fighting wars of dubious distinction.

So is it any wonder that we’ve grown to put on a pedestal those of excellence in the arena of athletic endeavour? The sporting field is one of the few places we can point out to our children to and show them the benefits of discipline, work ethic, team work and the rewards of excellence.

But here’s the catch. We want our heroes to be without flaw. Whilst most of us admire Shane Warne for his immense skill in leg spin bowling we generally loathe him as a person (even more so if he wasn’t “one of us”). I

In League we applaud the on field exploits of the many rugby league players but we hold no real affection for many of them because their flaws as human beings have been put in the spotlight for all to see.

Yet we probably all have acquaintances that frequent brothels, or go on drinking binges, or who give each other’s rumps the odd squeeze or, dare I say it, the odd finger poking.

Quite a few of us would view their actions as unfortunate or damaging, but generally their actions are written off as “their choice” or part of the rites of passage of growing up as a male.

However, should a group of football players of the same age and demographic indulge in exactly the same form of behaviour they’re exposed to torrents of public hysteria, shock horror and outrage!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to excuse the behaviour. However, spend time in any university during orientation week and you’ll hear the messages of hedonism, promiscuity and indulgence.

Every weekend you’ll rub shoulders with patrons in nite clubs drunk or high and will quite likely defend their right to a “good night out” So why exactly are we shocked when these messages manifest themselves in our young men in these sporting competitions?

I contend that is we who have placed these men on a pedestal because of our need for heroes to emulate. Their sole qualification is the ability to play a high octane and brutal contact sport. Often they are placed there without adequate preparation and support.

The virulence of our reaction betrays the fact that their inevitable fall is reviled only because it holds up a mirror and reflects back to us much of our own society that is decaying and reprehensible.

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