I read an article in the paper today (can’t find it online) about how gay men in elite sports are highly reluctant to ‘come out’ as it would diminish their earning capacity, interrupt their careers (because the spotlight would be on their sexuality, not their sporting prowess), elevate them to being gay spokespeople (which is not why they play sport) and result in barrages of abuse from Neanderthal poof-bashin’ fans. One elite sportsman who has come out said that he knows of many gay elite sportsmen, none of whom will come out publically. He went on to say (and I paraphrase) that so-called evil organizations such as banks and mining companies have sorted all this out (gay employees in Western society these days are not only protected legislatively, they also largely don’t need protection ‘cos most of us don’t give a shit whether someone is gay or not), and yet sporting organizations are dragging their knuckles on the issue.
But, yesterday’s Andrew Lovett thing did make me proud of the AFL.
Andrew Lovett, a very talented player (with one of the best running actions I have ever seen) has been sacked from his new team St Kilda. At his old team Essendon he was in some trouble for bashing his missus and some other alcohol-related incidents. Despite his talent, they got rid of him and the Saints picked him up late last year. Minutes after being recruited, he was under investigation for rape, and had some further alcohol-related problems (missing training etc.) The club suspended him indefinitely and the player got some legal help. His argument, which is fair, was that he was yet to be charged with anything and therefore should not be prevented from training with the team - you know, restriction of trade sort of stuff. Playing for a team is a job, and he argued, reasonably, that his earnings would be affected if not allowed to train with the team (because he wouldn’t be selected in the side, thus, he wouldn't be eligible for performance bonuses).
He was officially charged with rape yesterday and the club duly sacked him, even though he, as the adage goes, is innocent before being proven guilty. Reading through the fine print, the club seems to be saying it is not because of the rape charge… but of course, it is. They know it and we know it.
The story warms my heart a little. Sporting clubs don’t have to sack players who are potentially rapists, but, St. Kilda just did. I’m glad they did it. St. Kilda didn’t handle it too well when a few years ago a rape charge against two of their players (Milne and Montagna) was dropped due to lack of evidence… the support they gave their players in that instance was ‘sporting’, I suppose, but left a sour taste in the wider community's mouths. Likewise, the Adelaide Crows last year were a bit soft on Nathan Bock, arrested for bashing his missus, when they suspended him indefinitely from the team (the ‘indefinite’ period ended up being one solitary week).
Of course, the more lateral and logical thinking people (Boogeyman?) in this world will see a greater problem in that it opens up a bevy of potential unfair sackings from workplaces. “He’s a wanker,” is not a proper cause for employment termination. Nor is, I suppose, being arrested for an incident that took place outside of the workplace. But the more abstract and symbolic thinkers amongst us can see how what St.Kilda have done is indeed that…. Symbolic. Nicely symbolic. To quote one of my most hated sayings, it “sends a message.”
So what if he is found not guilty? Dunno. But, does it matter?
The whole debate about whether sporting heroes are role-models or not is one of the more boring public debates. Clearly, they are role models, and clearly, they shouldn’t be because they aren’t equipped to be once they walk off the sporting field. But the fact remains: they are idolized and worshipped. Hell, I idolize and worship a lot of them. The male public figure I admire most on this planet is not Nelson Mandela or Christopher Hitchens or Les Twentyman or George Clooney… it’s Roger Federer, and all he does is whack a green ball across a net. But I can’t help it. He is extremely talented, perhaps the best ever at his sport and by extension that makes him a figure, a personality, a legend. Subsequently, there is unfair pressure on him to be of outstanding character as well as an outstanding green ball-whacker.
John Terry and Tiger Woods know what I mean by this. The mighty hath fallen, for reasons not related to their sporting prowess, which is the very circumstance that elevated them to role-model status in the first place. By cheating on their wives, they cheated on all of us… symbolically.
From my reading of this latest AFL scandal, St. Kilda have cottoned on to my line of thinking. They could pull the ‘innocent before proven guilty’ line and keep him in the team solely so they can win more games. But they now understand their responsibilities back to the general sporting public. Not to their devoted fans (who just want them to win), but to everyone who loves sport. It’s a gift from the Saints that they did not have to legally or contractually give to us. They are saying, “...we manage 42 blokes who are rightly or wrongly role-models to hundreds of thousands of people, and no matter how talented they are, we will honour the abstract trade that takes place between sports people and sports fans around the world… Talent is no longer enough. You continue to make our players role-models and superstars, and in return, we'll weed out the... um, weeds."
Political parties and religions would do well to take note of what sport is doing. Instead of supporting pedo Catholic Priests as they so sickeningly have done in the past, the Micks should have done what St. Kilda have done… offered up the bad apple and said, “Here, we don’t condone this. He’s all yours.”
Credit where credit is due… well done St. Kilda.
(We'll never get to see him play again, so here's a 30 second grab of how good he was...)