It's amazing what you can hear about a footy player these days. The insults thrown at them for 80 minutes a weekend are pretty harsh and are not very rare at all. The sledging is a fine, a bit of gamesmanship, but the insults don't just stop at the ground (it'd be an easy life it did). The good old newspapers have to step in and inform us with multipage colour photos of how and why Tim Smith had a drink. Don't forget the four hours of radio talkback after the game, which usually focuses on off-game incidents most of the time anyway. And the multiple web forums where members insinuate their hate for Luke Covell. Not to forget the recent adapting of footballer identities on internet community Myspace. Cyber-bullying at its best. But we all know that these players don't have tme to listen to the radio or go one the internet, they are getting drunk and then going for a drive, aren't they? Well at least that's what Mark told me at the party last week anyway.
So much unwanted pressure on these players who just want to live their lives. I'm sure Tevita Latu's family are having a ball of a time when they go to league games these days. All for throwing a ball around and being good at it.
But while all this can be done over the phone, on the radio, in the papers, and in this day and age, the internet, how many of us could go up to a player and say something to their face? While this goes to all backstabbing talk in everyday life, when it comes to rugby league, we must realise that our most hated players also have lives to lead.
A week after the "We've got four toey humans in the cab" incident preceding origin in 2004, a couple of friends of mine and I were walking down the street in Kensington when lo and behold, walking in our direction thirty metres away, we see Shaun Timmins and Mark Gasnier. Timmins, funnily enough, was on the mobile phone, and this gave me the opportunity to shout out a joke related to phones and the incident which did occur the week before. This however, was not the greatest thing to do, because at the time I thought Gasnier would just ignore me and walk on. Instead, he stopped walking, turned around to face me and let loose a few expletives which scared me, quite a lot. Mark Gasnier, along with most other professional footballers, is very tall and quite built. While we both went in different directions, it gave me an indication of what these players have to put up with.
The very next week I attended my school athletics carnival at E.S. Marks field, while the Roosters trained in the weights room under the grandstand. Upon the completion of the last event, while I was leaving through the main gate, I was called upon for a bit of help by Craig Fitzgibbon to help carry his gear and surfboards to his car. After lugging the stuff across, he gave me a pat on the back and a thanks. Now while he may have just used me because he could, I felt really proud that I was asked by someone of such high profile do help him.
Now at the time of these occurences, Mark Gasnier was my most hated player, and the Roosters were my most hated team. But I realise it now that this was only due to their hyped up status in the community, mainly through the media. Face to face, these guys are just like everyone else, and they want to walk down the street, and they want to have a laugh like each and every one of us. But they are indeed role-models to young kids and they need to be on their best behaviour. In saying that though, we too are role models, and what we say about these players behind their backs should only be limited to the displays of gamesmanship we show for 80 minutes. For the rest of the time, as a famous song preaches, "Let it be".