There has obviously been a great deal made of late about sports stars behaviour once their careers have come to an end. Boorish behaviour, as well as addictions to alcohol or drugs.
To many it is hard to comprehend, as it appears that these “stars” have it all. They have done what so many would love to do, but didn’t have the talent or the breaks. They have the adulation of thousands, they have the money and all the trimmings that go with the fame. Yet the sad truth is so many of them are not happy.
As one player revealed to this writer, ‘it was like going from school straight into another school environment, and by the time I was reaching the end of my career I had had enough and wanted to start rebelling and kicking against the system.’
Dual International Jason Robinson’s revelations a week ago in a documentary aired in the UK should also be setting off alarm bells.
Robinson who played Rugby League and Rugby Union for England revealed how he was a heavy drinker during his early days with Wigan, which sent him into a prolonged decline.
“I got into a situation where I was drinking sometimes six nights a week. Monday it was Wakefield, 10 pence a pint night, Tuesday I would be over in Liverpool, Wednesday it would be Oldham, Thursday it would be Wigan, and after the game we would go out wherever.” He said.
He admitted following his arrest for affray, assault and criminal damage he was so down he considered taking his own life. ” I can remember I just sat in my bedroom with an old knife, an old meat cleaver, I didn’t want to go on in this way. That night when I contemplated doing it, I wept like a baby.” He revealed.
He credits Samoan star Va’aiga Tuigamala as the man who saved him from himself.
Not all young players are as lucky.
There have been many young sports stars in Australia who have been plucked by various codes while still a teenager. They are on big money comparative to their contemporaries. They finish training early and are then left to their own devices. Some are easily led astray. One particular player comes to mind, his school friends who were at University, would come around, convince him to buy a carton of beer and they would then drink most of the afternoon and early evening. This player’s form dipped. He then had more time on his hands and found himself, like Robinson, up on charges after misbehaving when drunk. Luckily his parents realised the situation and with the help of his management arranged a move away from his friends to another club.
This too can be fraught with danger as in another sport young players were housed with a seasoned professional who was reaching the end of his career. He was secure in his career and had a playing reputation to fall back on. Rather than be a positive influence on these young players, he far too easily led them astray. One player was smart enough to see what was happening and moved out and moved to another club. The other players are no longer playing at the highest level. The senior pro still has a contract, albeit at another club.
Another player had a long term injury and was on crutches, yet rather than laying off the drink in order to speed up the recovery process he was frequently seen inebriated on his crutches, or fuelled with alcohol walking without them. He never made a full recovery and was lost to the sport at twenty-two years of age.
From the outside Sport appears to be a glamorous world, and in many cases when you reach the top it is. Yet for some, the life you are forced to live is too divorced from reality. There is too much time to kill doing nothing. Everything is arranged for you, what time you train, what time you eat, even what you must wear. For some that becomes too much. Temptation is always there, so too is the desire to break free from some of the constraints.
That is why those who make it to the top and stay there are special. They manage to remain focussed and are prepared to make many sacrifices that other players, possibly with more talent, are not prepared to make.
The question has to be asked though do clubs have a bigger responsibility in terms of a duty of care?
Should they be more careful who they make young players live with? Should they be monitoring what young players are doing in their down time? Should they be encouraging them to prepare for a life after sport? Should they be relaxing the constraints on the senior players, so they do not feel the need to rebel? It is a very tough call, but one thing is very clear, there are many people whose live’s are being affected in a negative way due to professional sport.
Jason Robinson was lucky he had someone in the shape of Tuigamala to guide him back onto the right path, a path that saw him score England’s only try in their only Rugby World Cup victory. Others may not be so lucky.