I’ve learned a lot in the three years since I became a national object of hate for suggesting sports people aren’t heroes.
So yesterday, when I woke up to the news that Aussie tennis player Nick Kyrgios had beaten World Number 1 Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon and the entire country went nuts, I kept my big mouth shut.
And not just because my Dad texted me first thing in the morning to say:
It was excellent advice and he knows me very well but I’d already come to the same conclusion.
Back in 2011, I made so many mistakes when, in my usual weekly appearance on Today to discuss the news of the day, I was asked to comment on the hero status of Australian cyclist Cadel Evans who had, just hours ago, won the Tour de France.
As someone who is deaf to sport – and the public mood surrounding it – I blindly launched into an ill-timed rant about how I thought sports people weren’t heroes at all. To me, I told co-host Karl Stefanovic, heroism implies self-sacrifice. Soldiers, volunteers, emergency services personnel, charity workers, scientists, social workers…. people who put the lives of others and the betterment of the world above their own personal goals or gratification.
Why do we place so much emphasis on people who are good at sport, Karl, why?
As the temperature in the studio plumetted and Karl spluttered in horror, I blustered on, complaining that our national obsession with sporting achievement stole all the media oxygen from coverage of other kinds of heroic achievement. A value system that prized physical skills over all others was one I strongly disagreed with, I ranted.
Of course I said none of it in a calm, rational or particularly well argued way. It was morning TV and I shot my mouth off without any idea of the tsunami of venemous public rage I was unleashing.
As that rage came hurtling towards me, knocking me to the ground non-stop for days and weeks afterwards, I realised – way too late – that I had misread the public mood.
If by misreading you mean ‘not expecting to get death threats’.
And death threats I got along with all manner of abuse from cyclists, Cadel Evans fans and sports lovers who were all incensed by my comments.
Since The Cadel Incident, I’ve had a long time to think about sport and heroes and why my comments ignited the fires of hell. The abuse I will never forget nor forgive but these days I understand a little better where it sprang from. And I will always deeply regret pulling any focus from Cadel’s magical win – even if it was totally by accident.