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Constructing false idols

By Kym Durance - posted Monday, 5 September 2005

We don’t need another hero (with apologies to Tina Turner)

If we look to the etymology of the word “virtue” from the Greek, it tells us virtue is characterised by “habitual excellence” and from the Latin virtus, we are informed it means manliness or courage. It is the habit of doing the right thing and doing it regularly and selflessly. It takes courage and strength of character to demonstrate genuine virtue. The bar is set fairly high for any one wishing to be considered virtuous, and it would seem for the sporting elite some of us set that bar even higher.

Charging sporting elites with a duty to act as positive role models is symptomatic of how we are bedazzled by fame and the trappings of celebrity. It signals desperation and a lack of confidence in those who look to the famous for guidance. And it reflects a sense that the common person is not intrinsically capable of setting their own standards and meeting them with out an external guiding hand.


Can our sporting stars be rich, famous AND virtuous? Yes they can be, but they should not be under any more of an obligation to be virtuous than the rest of us. Highly paid and over scrutinised sporting stars are under pressure to conduct themselves as role models. But a cursory read of our newspapers would suggest that very few of them take that expectation seriously. Some have even gone so far as to publicly reject the call for them to act as paragons of virtue.

In a recent article on the website of the West Coast Eagles the prominent mid fielder and Brownlow medallist, Chris Judd, rejected expectations that he and his peers be role models. Neale Fong, the West Australian Football Commission Chairman did not support Judd’s position on the issue. He insisted that, along with his sporting colleagues, Chris Judd was a role model. And Matthew Pavlich of the Fremantle Dockers, writing in the West Australian Sunday Times in April 2004, felt that the sins of the sporting elite should be left behind closed doors were they belong. He clearly felt his off field behaviour was his own business.

But Patrick White in The Weekend Australian (July 29, 2005) referring to Judd’s article said the lads had no choice; they were role models like it or not. Even though he added that they might be either good or bad role models the expectation was clear. He is of the view they ought to behave well because of their position and status. But White’s expectation is unjustified and his faith is misplaced.

As there are members of the sporting elite who reject the notion they should act as positive role models there are also those whose conduct in real life highlights their susceptibility to moral and ethical failings. There are countless examples of conduct by high profile sports stars that fall well below community standards.

You don’t need to look too hard to find instances on the international stage. Take, for example, the Tonya Harding nonsense in the lead up to the XV11 Winter Olympics in Norway; the endless doping scandals surrounding most of the power events in international sports; drug abuses in recent years that have been linked to the Tour de France; and the world of boxing has also thrown up its fair share of scallywags.

A prominent South African cricketer was embroiled in a match fixing scandal recently and even highly ranked snooker players display their fair share of bad behaviour at times. And let’s not forget O.J. Simpson.


Sports people have nothing to recommend them to the rest of us as role models and it should not be expected of them.

And neither are we immune from this nonsense locally. In the past few years we have seen stories relating to allegations of violent sexual misconduct; links with the underworld; alcohol fuelled violence; drunk driving; theft; fraud; drug use to enhance performance and for recreational purposes; marital infidelity; and all other manner of stupidity.

If any one thinks sports stars should operate under some moral code more rigorous than that of the general public some one should tell them - and tell them quickly because the message is not getting through.

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About the Author

Kym Durance is a health professional and has worked both as a nurse and in hospital management. He has managed both public and private health services in three states as well as aged care facilities; and continues to work in aged care.

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