In 2013, Australian NRL football player (now captain) Mitchell Pearce re-signed a contract with football club the Roosters, not only committing to stay with the team until 2017 but also subscribing to their Code of Conduct. A code that the 26-year-old spectacularly swerved away from when he engaged in shameful behaviour at a party on Australia Day 2016. The arguably idiotic and lewd act captured on a smart phone, has been shared far and wide.
At a press conference announcing his new deal in 2013, Pearce told media: “It’s an honour that I don’t take lightly to represent the Roosters.”
Pearce has since been stood down by his club pending investigation, has delivered a public apology and has gone into exile, taking himself away to an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre.
This is not the first time a sports star has engaged in an alcohol-fuelled fall from grace. Neither is it the first time that this type of activity has been documented so broadly in the media.
In a culture where sport is held in such high regard, huge populations hold deep affection for their favourite sports teams and players. This puts these young, usually men, under pressure to perform the duty of a role model or pillar of the community in their private lives, made public by their profile.
Is this fractured anti-social behaviour a mark of a sick culture within sport, or does the behaviour reflect a broader societal issue?
One in seven patients visiting Australian emergency departments on Australia Day were there as a result of alcohol harm, according to research conducted by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM).
“That represents a huge and entirely unnecessary burden being placed on our already over-stretched emergency departments,” said Associate Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton, Chair of ACEM’s Public Health Committee and clinical lead for ACEM’s Alcohol Harm program, “clinicians are desperate for community action”.
Alcohol abuse, violence and self harm go hand in hand, when it comes to the statistics in Australia and worldwide. Could the public failings of high profile sports people be one of the many signals of a culture in trouble? How many other irredeemable acts of destructiveness, in varying degrees, took place on Australia’s day of national pride? Reports from Australian emergency departments tell us an alarming number.
The NRL Code of Conduct is the rule by which Pearce will be judged and by which there will be consequences, enforced by his club along with the NRL Integrity Unit. However, lingering is the question of how this will affect not just Pearce and his family, but sports community as a whole?
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