Sportsmen let us down over and over again. So why are they talking at my kids' school?

As sporting scandals continue to break with monotonous regularity, there’s a big question that needs to be asked.

Are our sportsmen still role models?

After all the performance-enhancing drugs, the sexual assault charges, the domestic violence allegations? After the booze, the group sex, the gambling addictions, the cheating-with-your-team-mate’s-wife, the crack habits, the match-fixing, the bubbling? After the sexting, the Stilnox, the racial slurs, the sex-tapes, the elephant-shooting and the nightclub brawls?

Well, are they?

Glenn McGrath shot an elephant. And one of the nation’s most untouchable sporting heroes image took a blow.

Every time a sportsman does something, well, gross, we’re cautioned against considering them role models. Or examples. Or heroes.

Every time a fresh scandal breaks – with tedious regularity – commentators say, ‘Don’t put that pressure on our sports stars. They’re just here to entertain you. They just want to have fun. These are just young men doing what young men do.’

And yet. And yet… If sportspeople are not role models, why were two of them speaking at my child’s primary school yesterday?

If sportspeople are not role models, why are they selling us everything from breakfast cereal to yoga pants?

Remember when Tiger Woods was a pin-up boy for everything?

If sportspeople are not role models, why do they appear as spokespeople in PSAs for causes from mental health to adult literacy?

If sportspeople are not role models, why do football clubs routinely partner with charities and big business?


OF COURSE sports people are role models. Of course they are. To argue otherwise, in Australian culture, is a nonsense.

Whether they are good role models, of course, is a different question.

READ MORE: How sport made me and my kid more resilient. 

This week, a major NRL club, the Gold Coast Titans, is fighting for its survival with several of its members under investigation for supplying cocaine. Not taking cocaine, but supplying it.

This week, the untouchable cricketing hero Glenn McGrath, got some of the only bad press of his life when photographs surfaced of him proudly sitting next to a large, endangered elephant. He had shot it dead with a rifle.

Last week, AFL player Stephen Milne was being discussed as a new addition to St Kilda Football Club, a team that is currently reeling from an ongoing investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs. Last year, Milne plead guilty to the indecent assault of a teenager.

From the outside, looking in, the sporting world looks like a very forgiving place. Lawyers materialise if you are accused of beating your girlfriend, brawling with a bouncer, having pills in your pockets. Lawyers that, presumably, would be beyond your reach if you were a brickie.

And if the lawyers get you off, there will be a job for you. A high-paying, glamorous job. If they don’t, you will do some penance overseas, perhaps, and then another high-paying job will beckon.


It seems to be a constantly revolving door of draft and deals that sees the same crappy behaviour rewarded time and time again in a different post code.

The Gold Coast Titans’ Greg Bird. Just an unlucky guy who keeps getting accused of stuff he didn’t do…

One of the men accused of being part of a cocaine ring that is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the NRL’s illicit drug problem is Greg Bird, a player who has already been in and out of court more times than most. He was infamously acquitted after being sentenced to jail for allegedly glassing his then-girlfriend in 2009, and only last year was issued an Infringement Notice for urinating on a police car. On his wedding night.

Of course, it is perfectly possible that Bird is a lovely, misunderstood young man who just has the misfortune to be regularly and wrongly accused of despicable acts.

Read more: At this time of year the world is full of men I don’t want my son to grow up to be. 

Even his now-boss, the Titans Chief chief executive Graham Annesley is exasperated by his star’s inability to stay out of trouble. “I’ve run out of words to explain it.”

“Let’s not forget these players haven’t been found guilty of anything … [but] to be constantly dragged through these types of scandals is incredibly damaging to the club.”

Yes. And to the reputation of the sport. Because this is a new era.

Ben Cousins, ridiculously talented AFL player whose career imploded due to his drug addiction.

As Charlie King, a former sports commentator who now travels Australia urging football clubs to implement a Domestic Violence Action Plan, says, when a player was accused of assault “It used to be ‘We’ll be with you brother, she probably deserved it’. That shouldn’t be what we’re saying”.


No, it shouldn’t. What “we” should be saying is, “You’re out.”

Drugs and alcohol, you’re out.

Drunken brawls, intimate partner violence, sexual assault – you’re never coming back.

Sporting careers burn hard and fast. If you can’t curb your desire to brawl and binge for the few short years you’ll be richly rewarded as a professional sportsman, then you’re undisciplined, and unworthy of the privilege of success.

There are brilliant, inspiring role models in sport. Men and women who can have so much to teach about the value of persistence, perseverance, self-belief, team work, commitment, effort, success and failure.

And then there’s a slurry of headline-grabbing thugs, masquerading as heroes.

And it matters. Because as long as we live in a society that rewards and admires sporting achievements almost above all things, these people have power and status and influence.

We don’t need any more illustrations of the fact that being able to run fast or jump high does not make you a decent human-being. WE GET IT.

Just get rid of them already.

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