Recently, we’ve excoriated Israel Folau for his comments, but history is awash with examples of us giving sports stars a free pass.
We like sports. No matter what country you’re in, humans congregate to watch, cheer, lament, scorn and praise those you play it. It’s one of the only jobs in the world where people scream at you – whether for or against you – and it remains a transient existence. A small fragment of your life to make this performance-based job that’s not forever, last forever. The pressure must be immense.
However, those who spectate it possess a massive blind spot when it comes to these titans of faux-war.
They may have to make trite public apologies when they stray from the morals we expect, but as long as they can keep running, throwing and kicking well enough, we’re quick to forget. Besides, it makes for a great narrative. The child astray becomes a man redeemed, now back on the right track because he kicked a ball, or in the case of Mike Tyson, returning to work to beat people up after being convicted of rape. Yes, he served his time, but our perceptions of him have shifted, not to an antagonist, but of a hero, or at least someone to look forward to seeing in the public eye. Hey, check it out, Look, He punched Zach Galifianakis in time with a Phil Collins drum roll. Lol.
Actors and musicians are going through a shifting period in regards to this, which is good and long overdue, but it seems like sports stars move independent of the tide. People like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein are now basically Hollywood pariahs for their behaviour, and Aussie band Sticky Fingers are receiving a lot of justified pushback against their attempt to re-enter the scene without really making any kind of amends for lead singer Dylan Frost’s alleged actions.
Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, just won an Oscar. Israel Folau made disgusting comments about gay people, and yet he continues to live his dream life. History is awash with examples. Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker, was accused of a double-murder and charged with obstruction of justice. He now works for ESPN. Donte Stallworth killed a man drink-driving and played the next season. Locally, just take a quick tour of the almost daily shitshow that the NRL enables. The examples are too numerous. Just Google ‘NRL Scandal’. Byways of an example of how terrible the culture is, the chairman of the league recently made a point to praise himself over a ‘scandal-free’ offseason. Ok. Conversely, ex-NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose only “crime” was to kneel in protest during the American national anthem, is unable to secure a contract to work in his chosen field, with those in power continuing to wait him out.
One of these is not like the other.
I’m never going to get fired for protesting. I would never be un-hirable because of it, either.
Athletes are, for better or worse, role models for people. Especially young people, and especially those who dream of escape, or to change their scope. Sure, we may not want them to be, we may want our kids to look up to scientists and doctors and engineers instead of actors and musicians and sports stars. But that isn’t always the case. And besides, those people can be problematic, too.
Sports stars are very much in the public spotlight, and they need to be held accountable for their actions in the same way that any other member of society would be. If I made the kind of comments Folau made at my workplace, I’d be justifiably fired because I would be discriminating against people I work with. If I had the kind of accusations levelled against me that Bryant had, it would be understandable for my employer to put me on leave, at least until it was all sorted out.
But I’m never going to get fired for protesting. I would never be un-hirable because of it, either.
Sports seems to be this last bastion of untouched old-ways thinking. It is the epitome of “boys will be boys” rule of thumb, and that needs to change. The young guard may grow into the old guard, and then pass into memory, but the same mentality remains in arrested development.
Lads, there is no “boys will be boys” – there’s being held accountable for your actions, or there’s enabling shitty behaviour.
Sort yourselves out.