To say that the last few weeks in Australian sport have been heartbreaking and tough would be a massive understatement. Not only has the Gold Coast professional football community been the centre of serious drug allegations but cricket royalty has also come under fire.
When things like this happen, the age-old role model debate comes to the fore. Should athletes have different expectations given their fame and the privileges that come with it? Should they live by different rules? Is this expectation realistic? Some athletes have come out publicly and said that they believe that they should not be expected to live up to the lofty expectations required of a role model. And yet, young people will continue to idolise sport stars because of their position in society.
I was asked in a radio interview earlier this year what I thought about athletes getting caught out doing silly things such as urinating in public. My answer was simple, “We have all done things we are not proud of. Thankfully, we don’t have thousands of people watching and commenting on our actions. That’s a lot of pressure to live with 24/7.”
I’m not excusing criminal actions. I do not believe that there is any excuse for behaviour that puts others and/or yourself at serious risk and that breaks the law. However, I am encouraging a more balanced view of athletes who pursue sport as a profession or a full time career. There is more to our athletes than extraordinary physical and mental prowess on the field, course, or court. They are someone’s son, daughter, brother, or sister and they deserve to be treated not only as athletes, but also as people. In many sports, athletes rise to fame at a young age and can no longer do basic things such as go to the grocery store without being recognised. An athlete may have one bad day, one bad moment and everyone knows about it, even more so now with social media.
Multiple skills and characteristics are required to be successful in sport. Ultimate success requires personal development as well as professional and athletic development. As much as we need to consider the person, not just the athlete when we see someone’s behaviour, we need to consider the whole person, not just the talent when we create development programs and support systems for our athletes.
Athletes are people too.