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Willie Mason sat in the changing sheds, head in his hands. "I don?t know how I?m going to tell the boys," he said to himself. The club tested everyone these days, so there was no hope of evasion, and the media scrutiny would be unbearable. He was meeting the person responsible, apart from himself, later that night. For all intents and purposes his career was in tatters. There would be no contract with the New York Jets. There would be no State of Origin. There would be no Tri-Series. There would be no football.
He'd been as careful as he could be, but the pressure had told, and sometimes people take shortcuts. Willie was one of those people.
Belinda had been his agent for the last six years. She'd helped navigate the minefield after the "doodling" fiasco, and released his ADD history in order to shine a new light on her client - the big oaf that he is. They'd grown close through these times and she had his confidence. She knew - of course, but this was a different proposition to any of the previous hurdles. There would be a press conference that night.
Entering the changing room, she spied Mason's forlorn figure, hunched over the bench. She rubbed his shoulders. "It's alright", she cooed. "We'll tackle this together." Willie nodded. So they would.
About 100 journalists jostled for position in the foyer of the hotel. There were rumours of a drug scandal, but they'd find out soon enough. Either way, the story would have legs. Belinda and Willie walked around to the table hand in hand. Steve Folkes and Malcolm Noad, each sporting a confused expression, soon joined them. Neither knew what was about to take place, but, like the reporters, they feared the worst.
The room hushed as Willie cleared his throat.
"Thank you all for coming. It is with deep regret that I must announce my retirement from the game effective immediately." Flashes sparked to life, and a flurry of activity ensued. All looked on incredulously.
"For reasons I am about to outline, this is in the best interests of all concerned, not the least Belinda's and I." They looked at each other. A tear trickled down big Willie?s cheek, and Belinda wiped it away with a firm stroke.
"A test was conducted a week ago, and the results are back." The media circus, led by the ringmasters of the NRL pressed closer. Folkes' hand was over his mouth. He feared what was to come.
"The result was,? he paused and looked up, ?Pink." Pink? "Two pink lines; I'm pregnant."
Noad rose from his chair in disgust. ?Surely you could have taken precautions? What about your commitment to the club? our sponsors?" Willie ignored the bellowing. Exasperated, Noad tipped over his chair and stormed out of the foyer.
Willie continued. ?Raising a child is one of the most important things anyone can do. Its past time that there were some good, high-profile male role-models, and the treatment of parenthood as a fallback option in society has to stop. I hope to set the standard and remove the stigma.?
The amount of exposure that could be gleaned from magazines such as the Australian Men?s Weekly was only just beginning to be realised. It was this pathway that Belinda had chosen for Willie. Among the ruckus, she was busy issuing a statement in his name criticising the Gillard Government?s pitiful support of working fathers.
Folkes smiled. He remembered back to the day when Terry Lamb could barely train - after his "C" section - and could only play matches. But then, they used to eat steak before a game, and medical advances had explained a lot about the potential risks of playing a contact sport while carrying a child. Many of the greats had done it at one time or another. Most players tried to keep it a secret, lest the opposition prey on a weakness, or it reduce their value come negotiation time.
A flash went off and Willie smiled. Maybe the glow of fatherhood would calm him down? His paternal instinct had started to kick in.
?Congratulations Willie,? Folkes said, shaking his hand, ?You?ll be out for a while, but once you?ve got a routine, and the little one is settled in, we?ll discuss you coming back part-time.?
?Thanks Steve,? Willie scratched his head. ?It was a moment of impulse and? you know how I am.?
Folkes laughed, ?Yeah, Willie, I do.?