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Should we look to sports for role models?

Hawthorn captain Ben Stratton has faced the tribunal following a night of misdemeanors against Essendon last Friday night. The first issue highlighted by the commentators was the near-constant pinching of Essendon forward Orazio Fantasia. This follows an away game two weeks ago against the Brisbane Lions where he spent the game pinching Lions forward Charlie Cameron.

The second issue for Stratton was being caught showing his middle finger to the crowd while waiting for the bounce of the ball. And third, he stomped on the foot of Essendon forward Shaun McKernan. Stratton faced the tribunal on Tuesday night and received a two-match ban. He had already been fined $1000 for making the obscene gesture to the crowd.

The AFL has had issues with discipline on the field in the past. Former Bulldog and Hawk star Brian Lake played in multiple flags with Hawthorn but held Kangaroo Drew Petrie in a choke-hold. Former West Coast premiership player and Carlton captain Chris Judd chicken-winged North Melbourne’s Leigh Adams, resulting in a dislocated shoulder. Not to mention numerous incidents involving former Saint-Swan-Bulldog player Barry Hall.

The Ben Stratton incidents on Friday night add to a period of time where misdemeanors from sportspeople are all too common.

The National Rugby League (NRL) had a torrid year last year and into the off-season, dealing with controversy after controversy, prompting CEO Todd Greenberg to say in January he was “frustrated, angry, embarrassed”.

Israel Folau’s standoff with Rugby Australia is still making headlines in spite of him being sacked for sharing the post that stated how “hell awaits” groups such as “homosexuals”, “atheists” and “ idolaters” amongst others. This was roughly a year after he wrote a similar tweet.

Australian tennis, though basking in the recent success of Ashleigh Barty at Roland Garros in Paris, has had its fair share of recent issues, regularing featuring the likes of Nick Kygrios and Bernard Tomic.

Around the world sport seems to be a magnet for contentious behavior. This year’s Superbowl, held back in February, had the lowest viewership in 11 years according to research firm Nielsen. And yet, the figure? 97.5 million people. To compare, the 2018 AFL Grand final had a total of 4.3 million viewers. But for a league with as wide a reach as the NFL, it has had a plethora of problems too. Examples of cheating include the New Orleans Saints ‘bountygate’ scandal in which players were paid bonuses to injure opposition players, and ‘deflategate’, where New England quarterback Tom Brady was caught up in a scandal involving deflated footballs.This is not to mention other incidents outside of games, an infamous example of such being the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend out cold in a lift.

So with all these examples of undesirable behaviour occurring in multiple sports around the world, should we look to sportspeople for good role models?

There are certainly good role models in sport, players who donate to causes and who stand up for what they believe in. A local example would be Robert “Bob” Murphy and his former club, the Western Bulldogs, who took part in a campaign to raise awareness of violence against women, particularly in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. State-side, the New York Giants of the NFL, joined with My Sister’s Place, Westchester, NY, for a team-wide community service project to support victims of domestic violence.

Sport is a fantastic platform for raising awareness to political issues. There are annual events that celebrate diversity in sports. This includes the annual AFL pride game between the St Kilda Saints and the Sydney Swans, and the annual multicultural round. Sport is filled with examples of athletes helping those less fortunate. Examples include the New York Giants in the NFL partnering with My Sister’s Place and the Carlton Blues in the AFL raising awareness on violence against women in Australia.

There are players around the world that would shock everyone if they committed any of the acts mentioned in the first half of this article. It would seem to be so against their character and nature. And, sure, players can commit acts of violence on the field or pitch or court that go against their reputation, like West Coast’s Andrew Gaff last year, or even Ben Stratton. If someone commits one misdemeanor in their otherwise impeccable career, maybe they should have the opportunity to apologise, learn and be forgiven. But sometimes, if the incident is severe enough, perhaps their reputation should be ruined.

Similarly, the occasional incident involving an individual who plays a sport shouldn’t tarnish the reputation of that entire sport. There are wonderful people and clubs in all leagues around the world who deserve to be looked up to.

Should we look to sport for good role models? Yes, as long as we put time into looking and finding the ones that are.

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