A week after Cameron Smith became the first player to reach 400 club games in the premier rugby league competition in Australia, it’s only logical to look at the performance of his club, the Melbourne Storm, for the duration of his career.
One of the most topical issues in America at the moment, are the deaths of African-Americans who were unfairly killed by ‘white’ American cops. This has sparked the saying “Black Lives Matter”.
If we compare that saying to the NRL at the moment, there are many similarities.
I am a young Polynesian male, of Samoan/Maori descent. I come from a strong family, who have strong values in life and take the ultimate pride in success, beyond the family name. How does all this tie into the NRL?
The NRL has a Polynesian ratio of 35 per cent, with players to have some form of Polynesian blood within them. That’s over 1/3 of the entire NRL population!
That is a huge chunk of the NRL that have the same enriched values within the family and a strong and proud culture. In saying this, if the Polynesians were to no longer play in the NRL, it would still be a great comp.
But think of the players you would miss – cult figures such as Manu Vatuvei, Issac Luke and even the incomparable Sonny Bill Williams.
If you glance at any club’s squad, you will most likely see at least four or five players of Polynesian descent on the team list.
That shows just the evolution of Polynesian players within the NRL, and the importance they have to each individual club. Within the coaching management systems, they’re represented well also, with the likes of New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney and current assistant coach to the Bulldogs Jim Dymock.
Given these facts, you can kind of see where I am leading.
Let me give you some chilling facts. Since the inclusion of the 20s tournament in 2008, ten Polynesian players have lost their dream, and ended up in prison – but the more intriguing fact, is four young Polynesian players have taken their lives due to them losing their dream. Just last month, another young player with great aspirations to play first grade football was taken too soon.
When players with star power and quality talent may have issues (gambling, drug use, attitudes to women etc.), they are generally taken care of. The NRL make a strong point to make sure people understand their star players’ troubles. With that being said, it is a wonderful gesture. When Robbie Farah’s mother passed, it was well documented and rightfully so, she was a loved woman within the Wests and Balmain clubs.
When Joey Johns comes out and states he struggled with depression, the NRL are onto it as soon as possible. They offer their Halfback of the Century any help he may need or want. With a whole stack of young Polynesians who suffer from depression, they aren’t taken care of until it is too late.
Why are the NRL not as accommodating to these young players? Sure, they haven’t done what someone like Joey has done for the game, but aren’t they all people in an organisation like the NRL? Shouldn’t the treatment be the same to whoever you may be?
As a young Polynesian, the struggles that the media may not see – and definitely the NRL wouldn’t see – is the culture within our culture. Growing up as a Polynesian child, you are entitled to live by the culture. Your parents will push you to your limits to give you opportunities to look after them and hopefully become the sole carer of the family at a young age.
Young Polynesian’s have the mindset that they need to make it in order to take care of their parents – that is the culture. But what people don’t see is the struggle behind the passion.
The passion, hard-working nature and determination is instilled into us. We know what we want, and we will strive to reach the goals – but with every challenge, there are obstacles. Obstacles include constant pressure from parents, expectations and stress from family lines, that come from the same strong family values.
The mindset of a Polynesian family is very, very different to that of a Caucasian family.
If the NRL don’t look after their players, such as the young Polynesians, then these talented youngsters will continue to pressure themselves into depression, and maybe even death.
If the NRL can assist star players as soon as they need it, why can’t they offer assistance to young players also? The NRL may have lost the next Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau or Stacey Jones – all because they didn’t offer the same assistance to these young players.
A segment last year on the Footy Show starred Reni Maitua. He opened about his depression and near death experience in front of a television audience. Within this segment also, you saw a young Tigers player’s young girlfriend and child, who were left with the death of their beloved father and boyfriend – all due to depression.
He was taken way too soon. He was dropped from the side and the pressure piled up before he eventually took his own life.
The biggest shame of this whole issue is that it took well over a year for it to reach the media.
If the NRL do not help these young players and check on them and balance their expectations with pressure, the NRL will constantly lose more and more players – either to prison, or the graveyard.
I want nothing but the best for the NRL and in particular for my people.
“All Lives Matter”. I hope the NRL can act quicker to help the one third of its population before it’s too late.