In my final full season of rugby league, my team’s recreational pursuits included fathering illegitimate children, getting thrown out of nightclubs, and stealing (and occasionally crashing) cars.
We were the Newtown Under 16s of 1993, and we took out the premiership against crosstown rivals Valleys in the Toowoomba Junior Rugby League decider that year.
How many of us went on to NRL glory? None even got close, with only a handful graduating to seniors as the realities of work, study, and jail terms got in the way.
(As a side note, that grand final winning Under 16s team also put on a brawl on our way to that famous comeback victory. The players involved were sin-binned, and all that was talked about afterwards was the conversion kick from the sideline that won us the game.)
Were Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan up to similar antics in their junior years? There’s plenty of idle speculation doing the rounds of Internet forums as fans attempt to dissect their latest headline-grabbing antics, but what is relevant is what they’re up to now.
I’m as big a fan of celebratory drinks as the next person, but the idiocy of their pre-Origin bonding session when their respective clubs, the NRL, the media and opportunistic members of the public have a big target hovering over them beggars belief.
Even my Under 16s team had members spend time on the sidelines when their social lives got out of control, and were able to pull their heads in enough to return come finals time. If any of us ever had an Origin jersey around the corner – even one of those filthy blue-coloured ones – I’m pretty sure we could keep a lid on things long enough to enjoy one of the greatest moments of our lives.
All incredulity at their stupidity aside, I think the deification of sports stars of any persuasion as ‘role models’ is a complete crock. Role models should be people who stand for something, like an inspirational mum and/or dad or wise-cracking English teacher or Optimus Prime, not someone who can kick/hit/run/pass a ball better than anyone else.
(Unless they’re Wally Lewis, in which case they were essentially God to Queensland kids of the 1980s.)
Let’s hypothetically place some other young Australians in the position of Messrs Ferguson and Dugan – for argument’s sake, the guys from Tame Impala. They had a big Song Of The Year win at the APRA Awards on Monday night, so decided to get on the drink.
Two of them kicked on deluxe, headed back to one of their apartments, and blew off the next afternoon’s band practice to shoot selfies while drinking questionable pre-mix drinks on a rooftop.
How would this be reported? As two young men setting a bad example for our children, or two young men doing what young men do? Should sports stars and rock stars really be playing by two different sets of rules?
Don’t get me wrong, as an avid follower of rugby league who is a little sick of putting the ‘long-suffering’ in ‘long-suffering Raiders fan’, I’m filthy at the pair of them. And if Ferguson’s indecent assault charge moves from alleged to guilty, he deserves every bit of punishment the law throws at him.
But rugby league players are just a microcosm of twenty- (and thirty-)something Australian men. Some of them will be excellent to each other. Some of them will be depressed. Some of them will be gay. Some of them will be contemptible douchebags. Very few of them will be as reprehensible as the worst paying punters at Australian music festivals.
Putting them on a pedestal as outstanding examples of humanity when they barely know who they are yet is setting yourself up for disappointment.
Even Jesus didn’t hit his straps until his 30s.