Raise your hand if you’ve never done anything wrong. I know I’ve done plenty wrong, particularly in my youth.
This is what makes Tim Paine’s resignation as Australian captain so egregious. He did wrong, he acknowledged his wrongdoing, he had “forgiveness and support” from his family, particularly his wife, and the incident occurred many years ago.
Much like Shane Warne’s scandals from many years ago, the public has largely forgiven and forgotten. But the question remains: how should the public react to sportspeople who do the wrong thing?
Firstly, the public has the right to expect sportspeople to be held to a high standard. Rightly or wrongly, sportspeople are upheld as role models, and young people will follow them. If sportspeople are not held to a high standard, if their infractions are not treated as seriously as the average member of the public, then what is the point of teaching young people to be responsible and accountable for their behaviour?
Sports men and women have a duty to ensure they behave in a way that conforms to societal norms as much as the average fan does. When their behaviour falls short, they need to accept the consequences for it. Once their debt is paid, sportspeople have a right to expect that the scandal can be put behind them.
Few remember Johnathan Thurston’s scandals early in his career, and but many see him as an absolute legend of rugby league and one of the best to ever play the game. Thurston is still giving back to his community because of the second chance he was given because he learnt his lesson early on.
Secondly, the public has the right to expect that sportspeople are treated justly. Nobody likes to see someone unjustly accused and convicted of a crime that he or she did not do. Likewise, when a sportsperson commits an offence, the public has the right to expect that justice is served. When it is not served, the public should be outraged.
In Paine’s case justice has already been served. We may never know the motives behind his sudden resignation, but one has the feeling that money and career embarrassment were probably driving factors. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that for Paine justice was perhaps not done.
Finally, the public must show mercy when a sportsperson deserves it. Mercy is when a person does not get what they deserve but are not continually reminded of their failure. Most of the time when a sportsperson has done something wrong they will ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it is not genuine, but as was the case with Steve Smith, the remorse is plainly written across the face.
Yet despite this, how often do we as the public quickly denigrate someone who has a rough start to the series and link it to prior indiscretions? If a sportsperson has asked for mercy, the public needs to extend that mercy to them.
So why do we hold our cricket captain to a higher standard? One reason is that the Australian cricket captain occupies for many a place next to the Prime Minister in terms of national seniority. He captures the hearts and minds of Australians like few other people. So when our captain does wrong, should we not expect him to fall on his sword like Paine did?
Well, in the case of Paine, it happened to be a bridge too far. These allegations had been investigated and he had been cleared of wrongdoing. But in the quest for purity Paine felt that the only option was for him to fall on his sword.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, we would do well to remember that one reaps what one sows. So let’s be quick to forgive and slow to get angry and to judge.