Over this Easter weekend, at BBQs and around dinner tables, a whole generation of kids will be listening to us talk about the ball tampering scandal that’s engulfed not just the Australian cricket team but seemingly the entire country.
This is a story that crosses generations and goes far beyond just cricket fans. Everyone has an opinion. People are highly and unexpectedly emotional and it seems nobody wants to talk about anything else.
All the while, little ears are listening and they’re learning about life.
You know how when a toddler falls over, they will look to the nearest adult and search their face to see how they should react? As that adult, you have immense power in that moment. If you quickly arrange your face into a bright smile and exclaim, “Hahaha! Wasn’t that funny!” the child will mirror your reaction, quickly break into laughter and move on. However, if your face instinctively contorts with concern and you rush to their side, they will burst into tears. Monkey see.
A generation of children is watching us now, watching how we react to these three men who have admitted to cheating at Australia’s most cherished sport.
When the story first broke, they watched us reel back in shock which turned to horror which became anger which turned to indignation. They watched Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, men who many of them admired and adored, give a press conference, blinking, stunned, haltingly admitting what they’d done. And then shortly afterwards, admitting that they’d not been entirely truthful even then.
Watching, wide-eyed, they learned what shame looked like and then they saw how it could be amplified by the fury of an entire nation.
They watched as Smith, Bancroft and David Warner were hounded by the media who were giving us what we angrily demanded - photos and footage and stories, endless stories and explanations about what the hell happened and why. They watched as the disgraced cricketers fled South Africa as though they were criminals. As though they’d killed someone or masterminded an act of terrorism.
They watched as the golden lives of Bancroft, Smith and Warner collapsed around them into dust. They watched sponsorship deals and overseas playing contracts be torn up. They watched all the adults around them rant and rail against the unconscionable behaviour of professional athletes who should have known better. They watched the penalties handed down, consequences that would impact upon the personal and professional lives of these young men for years and decades. They watched as these men were derided, abused, attacked, ridiculed and threatened - along with their wives, girlfriends, parents and children.
And then they watched these grown men weep and their voices shake as they arrived back home in Australia and faced the media to publicly express their deep shame and remorse for what they’d done.
They watched the lives of heroes be decimated in real time, a result of their own foolish decisions to cheat at a game so many love.
And what did this generation of children and young people learn from everything they’ve seen this past week?
They learned that actions have consequences. They learned that nobody, even the captain of the Australian cricket team, is immune from these consequences. They learned that cheating is anathema to everything we hold dear as a sports-loving country and that it is considered a heinous betrayal of our values as a nation. They learned that sports stars are not Gods.
These are good lessons, important lessons.
But now is the time for another lesson. We need to show them that forgiveness is possible, even when it seems like your life is over. We must show them that there is always a future, always a way forward no matter what you’ve done or how many people you've let down or made angry. No matter how humiliated you feel. We must show them that good people make bad choices sometimes and that nothing you do in life is so bad that you cannot recover from it.
This is so crucial.
Because everyone makes mistakes. Kids - and adults - will do stupid things or face humiliation and when they are exposed they will feel as naked and ashamed and devastated and shattered and remorseful as those three men do right now. And when they do, we need them to know it's not the end of their lives.
For the girl whose naked selfie is passed around school after sending it to someone she thought she could trust. For the boy who is expelled for cheating in an exam. For the girl who thinks she can still drive after having a few drinks and crashes her parents’ car. For the boy who gets fired from his first job. For the man who is subjected to a social media pile-on after a careless tweet. For the woman who looks away briefly as her baby rolls off the change table.
We all make a thousand decisions a day and occasionally we will get it so very wrong and the consequences will be dire.
That doesn’t mean forgiveness and redemption are not possible. That doesn't mean humiliation is eternal. That doesn’t mean life is over or that you are not worthy of love. That does not mean your biggest mistake must define you forever. And it doesn’t mean you should be shunned or condemned so utterly that you feel you are worthless.
The Mamamia Out Loud team unpack the ball tampering scandal. "Cricket has become a reflection of Australian values and for that to be undone." Post continues after audio.
These are the conversations we must have now with the children in our lives, at home, at school, in sporting teams.
We must condemn actions but not people. We must talk about forgiveness and recovery along with consequences and punishment.
Lives depend on it, and I’m not just talking about cricketers.
How we behave towards these three men at this point says as much about us as a country as did the collective outrage we felt at the act that led to this moment.
Remember, a generation of vulnerable, impressionable kids are watching what happens next. Isn’t it time we showed them the value of compassion?
Because after all, it’s possible to hold two things to be true: condemnation for an act and compassion for the person who committed it.