It is the saddest thing in sport – the one-time champion who loses his way once the carnival is over, the cheering stops, and there is no longer a clear direction by which to steer his life. (And yes, it is mostly a male phenomenon.) Without the pressing need to win the game next weekend and the premiership at the end of the season, where do you go, what do you do?
What makes the situation of Greg Inglis so troubling however – the news broke yesterday that he has been admitted to a Sydney rehab clinic – is that it has all happened so quickly. Less than a year ago he was named as Australian captain, just before being arrested on a bad drink-driving charge. By all accounts, his life was already a little off the rails at that time, and has rapidly spiralled since. There is only one upside. At least what has happened to him is at a time when the stigma of mental health is gone. At least it is at a time when we know that just as people get successful treatments for muscle tears, so, too, are there treatments for mental tears and it is fine to be equally open about both scenarios.
There are, however, a few more questions to be asked. Do the professional codes do enough to prepare all their players for life after football? Do they have a duty of care to do so, and is it sufficiently observed? Inglis is one of the most famous players in the game and will be looked after – the NRL knows we are watching – but what of all the other players, more anonymous than a wrong number, once their days are done?
We all hear stories from time to time on how badly they struggle, including in the rugby union ranks, and perhaps there could be a cross-code compact to look at ways their athletes could learn skills beyond the football field. For every Paul Vautin and Matty Johns who move effortlessly into the media world, for every Phil Gould and Craig Bellamy who make it as coaches, there are hundreds for whom no such avenues open up. I say there is a duty of care, and it must start before they retire. Over to you, Peter Beattie, Cameron Clyne, et al.
The Cricket World Cup starts on Thursday? Gee, I wish we’d been told. And they could have mentioned that the climax of the US PGA – one of golf’s majors – was held last weekend, too. But just as the PGA seemed to pass by substantially without comment these days, so, too, has much of the build-up to the World Cup. Oh yes, and they played the final of the FA Cup last Saturday night, too. And the finals of our own A-League. You didn’t know?
Twenty or thirty years ago, it seems to me, there would be a countdown to such major events, with the punters literally whittling down the days. These days, the hardcore might still be doing exactly that – you qualify as “hardcore” if you know Australia’s first game of the Cricket World Cup is on June 1 against Afghanistan in Bristol – but the more common thing is even big events just seems to creep up on you, and some right by without you even knowing. In the cricket, even with Steve Smith and David Warner making their returns after year-long suspensions for the sandpaper affair, there seems to be little hoopla, and comment around the traps.
Why is it so? I think it is because a couple of decades ago, such events were peaks in the world of sport, and we had to travel through the valleys – usually long and empty ones – to get to them.
Click Here: But right now the world of pay television, for starters, means we are spoiled for choice. What is more, thanks to YouTube and websites displaying content, we can watch them on our phones, our tablets, our wristwatches whenever we want, even while in faraway corners of the world every second of the day, and can simply skip from one peak to the next. Time and again on Twitter I notice that the top trends are overseas sporting events that no Australian team, or individual, has any involvement in, and they’re often small peaks – US basketball games and English soccer games – rather than large ones.
What a contrast with the way it was. When the Australian basketball great Andrew Gaze was growing up in Melbourne, he loved the first Wednesday of every month, because that was the day a particular basketball magazine arrived at the Gaze household, which he would devour for news of the NBA. These days, everyone interested can watch every NBA playoff game, every EPL game they’re interested in, in real time.
What does it all mean?
Beyond the fact we skip from peak to peak to peak in the international sporting world, it probably makes the specifically Australian sporting peaks feel lower, yes? And with there being only so many hours in a week that Australians can watch sport, does it not mean less eyeballs on just Australian sport than ever, less passion, less turnstiles swinging here at home in the long haul? Does that help explain the generally lower numbers for the cricket ratings, attendances at rugby league, rugby union and soccer matches?
And yes the AFL is the exception, but that is always the case, and we all know the reason why. Berko AFL followers put something in the milk of their children when babies, which makes them berko AFL followers for life, too, and the globalisation of sport has made barely a scratch on that.
Modest start worth it
And the hell with it, this US basketball yarn also caught my attention – the very attention, to reprise a theme, I might have applied to the build-up of the cricket World Cup.
See, last week the 38-year-old Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver gave a commencement speech at his Omaha alma mater, Creighton University, reflecting on his own less-than-glamorous beginnings in the professional league, way back in 2003. “The 51st pick, to the New Jersey Nets,” he mused. “I found out shortly afterwards that I had been traded to Philly. I’m not sure if traded is the right word. I was more or less sold for an undisclosed amount of money. I later found out (the Nets) used that money to pay for the entry fee for their summer league team, and with the leftover money, they bought a copy machine.”
And he was serious. “But it’s OK,” he followed up. “Because a couple of years ago, that copy machine broke. And I’m still playing.”
Yup. Sixteen years on, he is still going and is about $80 million to the good, was an All-Star in 2015, and twice made it to the NBA Finals. He is fourth on the list of all-time shooters for three-pointers, with 2351 to his credit.
Team of the week
Cooper Cronk. Announced his retirement at the end of this season.
Brooks Koepka. Won the PGA Championship, his fourth major. Odd then, that you and I have barely heard of him. Has he risen without trace, or is it a reflection of the fact that you and I only really get into it when it is the Masters, British Open or US Open.
Tiger Woods. After winning the Masters in his last time at bat, missed the cut at the PGA Championship.
Tolu Latu. Stood down by the Waratahs on drink-driving charge. Presumably, according to one former Waratah, he will also be eventually heading for hell. (Think “drunks, adulterers, gays,” etc etc.)
Sydney FC. Champions for the fourth time. I know, it is really only we football nutters that know about it. The news seemed to barely penetrate beyond football circles.
Kevin Muscat. Stalwart of Melbourne Victory as captain and coach leaving the team.
Geoff Stooke OAM. After more than 900 games of rugby, including 700 for Associates in Perth, the former chairman of RugbyWA and director of the ARU is hanging up his boots at the ripe old age of 71. Well played, Geoff.
What they said
Aaron Finch on having Ricky Ponting around the Australian team: “Everyone wants to impress Punter, you should see them – it’s like eight-year-old girls around Justin Bieber when Punter’s around the change room.”
Three-time world Formula One champion Niki Lauda to TFF in 1992, on his near-death experience back in 1976 when engulfed in a fiery inferno: “It was like falling into a big hole, and I just wanted to let go, to be sucked into this hole and just let go, let go. It was so nice. It was only when I realised this was what dying was that I shook it off and tried to wake up.” Lauda died this week aged 70.
Ian Darling, director of Adam Goodes doco The Final Quarter: “When you see the three years unfolding, we can now see this is what racism looks like and what it sounds like. And from the Indigenous perspective, this is what it feels like … One of our greatest footballers, who happened to be Indigenous and a proud Australian of the Year, was literally booed out of the game.” It’s being launched on June 7.
Peter Beattie on the Jack de Belin verdict, which vindicated the policy he championed to stand down players charged with serious crimes: “This is not a time for celebration, this is a time for us to move on.”
Orlando’s Seth Curry sledging his brother Steph Curry in the NBA play-offs while Curry the Elder was trying to make free throws: “I said ‘That’s 70 in a row’. I was trying to get in his head and jinx him. He looked over at me and said, ‘OK, now it’s gonna be 72’.” He should have tried the line Michael Voss of the Brisbane Lions used when his own younger brother Brett was lining up a critical goal for St Kilda: “My dad’s slept with your mum.” Brett missed.
Wayne Bennett on James Maloney and Nathan Cleary: “I’ll say what no one else wants to say, they cannot pick the halfback and five-eighth from last year.”
Victorious Sydney FC coach Steve Corica channelling Frank Sinatra: “I obviously believe in myself. I did it my way. I can only do it that way. All I can say is, I did it my way . . .” He did it his way.
Ian Botham dismisses the very idea the Aussie bowlers weren’t aware of #Sandpapergate: “As a bowler you know everything about the ball and what shape it is in. There is not a chance in the world that the bowlers in that team wouldn’t have known there had been sandpaper rubbed on that ball.”