Stop tarring all league players with the same brush
As a youngster growing up in Dapto, I vividly remember my first moment being star struck. It was in a low-key hot chook shop in the Dapto CBD.
As my Mum was queuing for a takeaway meal, I noticed a large frame seated in the corner devouring a hot spud. It was a daunting occasion for a five-year-old watching this ominous giant unleash upon a meal.
My Mum tried to usher me away, preventing me from awkwardly staring at this goliath, perhaps even fearful that I would be his next bite, before realising it was none other than the late, great Artie Beetson.
Artie had noticed me and had stopped eating.
He was quick to shake my hand, rustle my hair and give me an autograph. At that time, Artie Beetson was better and a whole lot bigger than Santa Claus to me. Meeting him was an experience I will never forget. He showed me in a snapshot what a great man he was, and why he enjoyed such enormous respect.
It is encouraging that a group of modern players carries on big Artie’s legacy. Most rugby league players are able to hold their heads high.
Scribes who are quick to write sensationalised columns about off-field late-night shenanigans ought to focus more on positive player behaviour, which makes up the overwhelming majority. Some journalists are more responsible for this than others. Rugby league fans will know who I am referring to.
Some newspapers have almost become NRL gossip columns, with more so called twists and turns than The Bold and the Restless or whatever that rubbish is.
Rugby league is played by young men, and while there may be the odd exception, their behaviour is no different, worse or worthy of condemnation than that of their peers on a Friday or Saturday night.
To the contrary, the current rugby league player is probably more committed and focused than most in the community.
To achieve a position within any NRL club’s ranks takes perseverance, desire, and dedication that most people are not prepared to commit. This equates to a great responsibility, arguably more than the everyday punter. The current player has a lot at stake after channelling all their energies into reaching their on-field potential.
That said, I realise there are academics who dedicate years to their craft who share a similar responsibility to their own personal behaviour. We don’t seek to crucify the budding academics or put them under scrutiny as we do footballers.
On the weekend I flicked the TV on and watched a humble man walk with his children in his arms around Suncorp Stadium, celebrating his 300th game. Petero Civoniceva plays as tough as anyone, but is revered off the field. He is an ornament to the game. Achieving this respect and standing couldn’t have come easy given the media circus that follows our NRL ‘stars’, sweating on a momentary indiscretion to boast about in their columns.
The modern players’ responsibilities include keeping their reputations intact or being shown the door. Petero is an example of the majority.
There are countless stories that hack journos could devote their energies to reporting. But NRL clubs have countless stories of how their players are involved in the community helping the disadvantaged, running clinics for kids, and generally doing good. There are significantly more players achieving great things in the community than the odd ones who tarnish the reputation for the rest.
More often than not, players commit an enormous amount of their time and energy for no reward or fanfare. They go out of their way visiting the underprivileged because they are passionate about being positive citizens and role models. They are unassuming about their achievements.
I think the respect Artie Beetson gave me as a youngster is reflective of the current player.
I am sure there are many kids today experiencing what I did all those years ago: a fleeting moment in the presence of a legend. Artie was one of the greatest ever to lace on a boot, but he went out of his way to make me feel at ease.
Players ought to enjoy fairness and accuracy in reporting. ‘Journos’ could do better for their own reputations by restricting their comments to the player’s footballing ability, or not writing at all. Let the salacious tastes of the minority be satisfied by the soap operas or The Jerry Springer Show.