Can our sporting stars be rich, famous and virtuous?
Why should we expect sharp vision and strong, well co-ordinated limbs to produce model human beings?
What do we expect from our sportsmen and women and are they delivering it?
The short answer is we should expect our sporting heroes to act in an honourable way because they represent their country, accept the huge pay packets and adulation that go with sporting excellence, and most importantly, because they are role models for younger generations. They carry the aspirations of a nation whenever they run out onto a sporting field - at home or abroad. They are our idols. Because of these things, they voluntarily place themselves in a special category of national hero. We expect of them the same excellence in behaviour off the field (or golf course, tennis court, or wherever) as they demonstrate on it.
Are our sportsmen and women delivering? The vast majority - yes, but an unhealthy minority - no.
The case for “I just want to be remembered as a sportsperson,” was put recently by 2004 AFL Brownlow medallist, Chris Judd of the West Coast Eagles). He said he wanted to be known as a “good footballer - nothing more, nothing less”. Sorry Chris, it doesn’t work that way.
What does it say about cricket lovers in Australia (and increasingly, however begrudgingly, their counterparts in England during the current Ashes Test series) when Shane Warne is revered for his outstanding achievements on the cricket pitch with scant reference to his actions off the field?
The apologists for Warne (and other sporting “heroes”) would have you believe he doesn’t deserve the treatment he receives from sections of the media, like the British tabloids. Why not? Because Warne’s defenders insist that sporting heroes are simply that - people who excel on a sporting field who should be admired for that, and that alone. However, it’s exactly because he is a national hero that young people might follow his example in more than just taking up spin bowling. They may believe that his behaviour (and that of others) off the field is acceptable.
The day I was asked to offer my opinion on this topic, Warne, who probably most closely typifies the best and the worst qualities in our sporting heroes, wrote himself into the cricketing history books as the first bowler to take 600 Test wickets.
The next day, on its website, the Sydney Morning Herald labelled its link to a commentary piece by The Telegraph reporter Michael Henderson, with his opening line: “Shane, all is forgiven.” (August 12, 2005) It contained the following sentence that typifies the attitude of many to the consistently wayward Warne:
The injuries, weight problems, drugs bans, associations with bookmakers, hair styles, indiscrete text messages and the separation from his wife, Simone, all paled against this moment.
Did they? Maybe for that moment but surely not for long.
Roger Patching is an Associate Professor in journalism at Bond University on the Gold Coast. He worked as a journalist (mainly for the ABC in Brisbane) for 17 years before spending the past 26 years teaching journalism at three Australian tertiary institutions – Charles Sturt University, Bathurst (formerly Mitchell College of Advanced Education), Queensland University of Technology and Bond. He specialises in broadcast journalism, ethics and sports journalism. He is a co-author of the 2005 text, Journalism Ethics: Arguments and Cases, for Oxford University Press.