Razer: Don't look for moral guidance from sport stars – or sport writers

If there’s one thing surer and more regular than shit, it’s the tendency of Australia to throw up its hands and despair for the “morality” of sport. Which makes about as much sense as despairing for the nutrition profile of a fast food lunch. You don’t expect your bacon-double-crime burger to be filled with anything but pain, and advice that such meals are unwholesome surprise precisely no one. But, when another young man has a tantrum on a sporting field, it’s always a fucking surprise. “This is not what we expect from our sporting heroes,” people say, even though their sporting heroes have behaved this way for years. “Why can’t he be more like Don Bradman?”

Fucking. Bradman. There are two things remarkable about Bradman. First, his batting average of 99.94 remains, despite bodyline, the highest of all time and is coyly preserved in the ABC’s PO Box number. Second, no one ever caught him on camera telling an English fast bowler, “Sorry, mate, but Jack Ryder banged your wife”. Which is not to say that he never presaged the chin music played last week by tennis player Nick Kyrgios. But it is to say that we confuse exceptional physical ability with exceptional morality. Of Bradman, John Howard was enamoured and declared him the “greatest Australian ever”. FFS. This breathy, fanboy talk is unbecoming of a Prime Minister who may as well have said, “TAYLOR SWIFT 4 LYF!” Bradman was a great cricketer. This does not, or should not, make him a moral leader.

There is no non-cricketing incident in Bradman’s career or life that renders him exceptional. He has been celebrated for his decision as chairman of the Australian Cricket Board to refrain from touring South Africa in 1971 but (a) this was due largely to persuasion by then ACTU president, Bob Hawke who was, in turn, persuaded by a membership then deeply committed to solidarity and (b) historical documents show that Bradman made efforts just a few years later, thwarted by the Whitlam government, to tour the apartheid-era nation. He was the greatest cricketer ever. As an Australian citizen, we’d have to say he was nothing special.

But, to make this declaration, even and only as a refutation to the many claims that he was special, is un-Australian. It is un-Australian to say that “people who are good at sport are people who are good at sport”. We must also say that people who are good at sport carry with them not only exceptional statistics but the moral responsibility for an entire nation. And this is why an unremarkable citizen can become the “greatest Australian ever” and why Kyrgios can make local headlines for a week for saying just what many overpaid 19-year-olds with risky haircuts are bound to say until they grow up and out of fashion.

Kyrgios has been subject to unusual critique for his sledge. It wasn’t a fair thing to say but nor is it particularly fair to fill news pages with shithouse etiquette guidance. Sports writer Andrew Webster compares Kyrgios’ outburst to that of PGA winner Jason Day who behaves, in the writer’s view, as a true sportsman should. Certainly, it’s nice that Day was humble in victory but, it’s really not compulsory and nor is it particularly good form for a sports writer to call Kyrgios, a person of colour, a “Wild Thing”. Particularly when his behaviour is here set against that of Day, also a person of colour, who we must conclude is, in Webster’s view, a “tame thing”. We can take no issue with Day’s response to triumph which was, says Webster, one of “self-effacement”, i.e. not at all uppity. But, we can take issue with the fact that many major sports writers have the very dull tendency to expect very tame behaviour from dark men on the field. Cf. Adam Goodes.

I am not saying that Webster is a racist. I am just saying that he, like many sports writers, has been a crashing bore and, in this case, has failed to take the quickened pulse of those sports fans and players justifiably sick of a moralising prejudice so extreme, it can actually send good players off the field. The answer to the question of how Adam Goodes should have behaved is: fuck you, he’s a footy player. And, a really good one whom I have observed firsthand crushing the now vanquished flag hopes of my team, St Kilda.

This is not to suggest, of course, that “Wild” white players get an easy time of it. When photographs of League player Todd Carney pissing in his own mouth emerged last year, they and he were widely said to “bring the game into disrepute”. Let’s set aside that this violent game is ipso facto disreputable and that the national fascination for it rests on low “unsporting” instincts, and simply find it curious that a badly behaved white sports star brings a game into question whereas a badly behaved brown sports star brings an entire ethnicity into question. You’re not just letting the side down but your entire heritage, you “Wild” and arrogant creature.

Of course, I do not look to sports writers for instruction on racism, morality or proper manners and, having read his dreary “open letter” to Kyrgios, I will never read Webster for any reason at all again. Fuck that noise and fuck all the other drivel about Goodes and his “inappropriate” javelin toss. Just as we should properly look to, say, Frantz Fanon or Edward Said for good work on racism, we should look to, I dunno, actual moral philosophers for instruction on morality.

It is Webster’s business to write about sport. It is Kyrgios’ business to play it. It is Bradman’s business to inform the ABC PO box number until his record is beat and it is our business to STFU about moral disappointment as it occurs in a game played with balls.

Anyone who hopes for a footballer to be a guardian of morality may as well piss in their own mouth. Anyone who expects that a 19-year-old brown kid should bung it on like The Don should wonder if they have never, under pressure, said something untoward. Who are these Australians who suddenly become Little Lord Fucking Fauntleroy when they attend a sports game? Other, of course, than people from whom we should take no moral instruction.

 

Photo: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

54 responses to “Razer: Don't look for moral guidance from sport stars – or sport writers

  1. Why beat around the bush. Sledging is no more than foul-mouthed abuse and should be called that and not defended in any way. That said, it reflects the social norm of the average Australian, male or female. Sit in the crowd at any sporting event and you will hear the same on every side which is why many families don’t take their children to sporting events any more.

  2. I just love the discourse between the commentators & the author. It’s a refreshing laugh in the morning & an intriguing analysis at the way people, me included are drawn into a subject. Seriously, at least I read one of Kyrgios sponsors has dumped him. Did whats his name really piss in his own mouth ? URL please & lastly I remember something about a football player crapping in a Hotel. FFS why give them any air time.

  3. Helen, the wild thing reference has nothing to do with race. its a common nick name for players of all sports with a “big game” I was used in the movie major league for a character played by Charlie Sheen. the Ny times wrote an article saying how the name wild thing is appropriate

  4. Hey Helen, I’ve got Celtic carcinoma prone shite like yours, but your warped analysis of race in sport is now reading pathetic.

    We dominant whites expect decent behaviour from people of any race playing any sport.

    So because you are non-white, you should expect get away with anything as a protest against the dominant culture? Really?

    This is not Tommie Smith, Peter Norman and Carlos on the podium in 1968 Helen….it is a brat with a stupid haircut abusing a referee whose ancestors probably burned at the stake.

    I’m pretty sure Cassius Clay, Jesse Owens and Cathy Freeman would not cop that nonsense from you.

    1. Mate. You’re a dill. To say “non-white persons often encounter greater critique than white persons from white persons” is not the same as saying that anything that provokes critique is either moral or justifiable.
      And to say that Muhammad Ali (I guess you don’t consider this a legitimate name) never played with the dominant white idea of how a black man should behave is, apparently, to have missed his entire career. To say that Jesse Owens never encountered a double standard is to miraculously forget that he stared the architect of the most systematised racism in history in its face. To say that Cathy Freeman, widely critiqued for her spontaneous and innocent decision to run a victory lap with an Aboriginal flag, doesn’t know how two standards are applied makes you a very poor reader.
      To say there is no racism and that all people are apparently as reasonable and just as you seem to believe yourself to be is just dumb.

      1. I’m the dill eh?? Did Owens, Freeman and Clay abuse umpires, engage in idiotic provocation of their audience over moronic issues?

        Owens was treated somewhat better in Germany by the crowds and fellow athletes than by Brundage’s Olympic club and the public in the USA after 1936 where he could not stay in a NY hotel and had to run against racehorses to make a living. He always behaved with dignity and grace in spite of the racism around him.

        Clay had a point in saying that ‘no Vietcong ever called him a nigger’, but the reasonably educated fan always knew his loud mouth act was just that – an act. Anyone who watched the Frazier fights would know that Clay was the real deal, and raised to legend status by black and white alike. And Muhammed Ali – must have been one of those nice muslims who never preached jihad.

        Freeman never provoked my critique by running a lap with an aboriginal flag. I could not even remember it, but there was some doubt about her prime opponent Ms Perec pulling out and going home after a short fraught stay in Sydney. Did the tribe point the bone at her high priced hotel? I think Perec held the 400m record both before and after Sydney 2000.

        Did I say there was no racism…how could you make that dumb conclusion? The greats rise above it and shame their detractors.

  5. I think we should select all our national sporting teams based solely on how nice they are. That way no one will be offended. Or you could just not watch sport, because if your main objective in watching sport is to avoid being offended you’re doing it wrong.

    1. This is the unexamined urge of a nice liberalism, isn’t it? Why can’t we all GET ALONG? Why can’t we be respectful of others?
      Had I been born with dark skin instead of this carcinoma prone shit, I would be so effing shitted off all the cocking time. The dominant culture expects such nicety and “moral character” from non-white athletes. That any person of colour can be nice at all is stunning to me. I would smash shit up.

  6. Great article Helen. Does running from the police constitute a sport?
    Not being up on the antics of the over paid super sports heroes I have decided to read Pipper Middleton’s book on great party ideas. I have been told it has refreshing & inspiring ideas for us lounge chair commentators.

  7. An article about why the hell our sports stars are supposed to also act as moral and ethical pillars is long overdue, so thank you, Helen. This peculiar expectation is something I’ve never fully understood, despite friends talking about impressionable kiddies, role modelling and social standards. WTF? Sports people are there to play sport. They’re not trained in philosophy or social psychology. It was supposed to be the job of teachers, parents, priests, and (god help us) politicians to be role models, but I guess no one expects that anymore.

  8. For me it’s the stupidity of football that brings the good, clean fun of pissing in ones mouth into disrepute, not the other way around.

  9. Well written. I’ve noticed that the less interesting the sport is [ahhh] the more is talked, written, commented and sledged about it.

  10. Totally agree with what you have written except for one thing……… Greeks are caucasian, they are not ‘people of colour’. Yes, there was ethnic bias in the criticism of Kyrgios but easy on the PoC designation, please.

      1. “understood to be “off-white” by the dominant white culture.”

        What? Really? News to me – but then maybe I’m one of the subordinate whites rather than one of the dominant ones. I feel inferior now.

          1. No I know he’s Greek/Malaysian. In my circle of associates though I’ve never heard of him being labelled as “off-white” or similar. Plenty of comments that he is a dick-head however. I don’t think “dick-head” is restricted to any particular colour.

        1. And if you don’t think there is a prevalent racism against Greeks, I encourage you to read just about anything on Grexit. It’s not the fault of unfair systems of capital, apparently, that Greece is in the shitter. It’s their “lazy” and “corrupt”….oh fuck why am I bothering. Go on pretending you’re all miraculously colour-blind and evolved beyond the racism that informs being white.

          1. I guess if you try hard enough you can read racism into anything. BTW both my parents are immigrants from Europe and I am 1/4 Spanish. Why is this relevant? Well it means I have encountered racism against me in the past. Was it a detriment to me in the long term? Not so much.

  11. Apart from Helen’s foul mouth, so unbecoming for a lady of patchy but brilliant talents, this piece is all show and no go.

    Celebrate Jason Day, a kid who did it hard and all without the help of Tennis Australia and the AIS (please correct me if I am wrong).

    Jason is a great story. He will be one of our greats if he keeps his head and eschews the tats and ghetto blaster hats and funny haircuts.

    The comparison with Kyrios and Tomic is stark. Golf is a game requiring character and discipline to succeed at the top for a long time. Tiger showed plenty for a quite long time until his animal instincts laid him low. Daly had natural talent, but bad habits and terrible pants did him in.. Go read Rod Laver’s autobio…there is a tale of admirable discipline and moral character.

    The moral of the story; the tougher it is to succeed, the better the character.

    You might wonder why our athletics performance is so patchy after the golden era up until the Communists doped the Olympics. Blame the AIS…soft athletes who get it too easy. Go look at the records …some have stood for 40 years when Ralph Doubell and Peter Norman went round in 1968.

    I think the womens 800 metre record is still held by Charlene Rendina, set in 1972.

    The nutrition, the bio science, the shoes, the tracks and not one white Australian can regularly break 10 seconds for the 100 metres. Patrick Johnson and Shirvo broke 10 fleetingly, and retired as well paid heroes…never making it to an Olympic f***king final.

  12. Person of colour… wild/tame thing… racial epithet?
    That would never have occurred to me had you not taken the time to point it out. I do hope you’re taking the piss.

    1. I do hope one day you attempt to read a history of western thought on race, perhaps beginning with that prize racist, JJ Rousseau. Then, perhaps, such things might occur to you.
      Oh. I hope you’re taking the piss.

  13. Intention is irrelevant.
    ‘The road to hell………’
    I’m sure Eddie never meant any harm with the ‘King Kong’ thingy either.

  14. Thanks Helen. Sanity at last.
    The same comparison to Hunt was made on both 10 & 7 News last night. Unprecedented moralising! & on the News FFS!
    De ja vu Tiger Woods. How astonishing that a kid raised as a robot should be dysfunctional! I remember some saying what a relief his dad wasn’t around to witness his fall from grace, oh the irony!
    We worship & encourage the desperate destructive pursuit of sporting perfection that would surely impact on on an persons moral compass & tear them down for lack of it.
    But for me this also about payback for the racism claims re Goodes & Kyrgios. Its way to extreme an over reaction. The masses were burning over the allegations & had their vengeance.
    ‘How dare they speak, be different or god forbid ‘loud’.
    Bradman, ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘suffer in silence’, Pat ‘humilty’ Rafter is embedded in much of Anglo culture & any deviation for many is unacceptable or ‘UnAustralian’.
    ‘UnAustralian’ is such a racist concept. Moral superiority & intolerance all rolled into one.
    This is not about in your face racism but an indirect one.

      1. And whats more intriguing is his game went to shit as soon as he ‘went legit’.
        ‘Immorality’ might actually be necessary for success. Seems to also work in the NBA & NFL too.
        Better to keep up that unruly ‘wild’ lip & hair NK!

  15. I dunno. I’m confused, as I’m not a patriot but seem to have some vestigial patriotism hanging around, and though I’m not mad about sport, if people are highly paid to represent “me”/ Australia then I’d prefer them to come across on the so-called “world stage” as mildly intelligent and pleasant ( I’m neither, but then I’m not strutting the world stage). A modicum of respect for other people would be nice too. Not asking for Little Lord Fauntleroy, let alone expecting a moral philosopher for godssake, but would prefer someone who might refrain from using the world stage to spread the word internationally about a young woman’s sexual preferences. Maybe she doesn’t care, again I dunno. Did anyone ask ?.

  16. “Wild Thing” has been Kyrgios’ nickname (a la Scud) and used in the press since at least 2014; particularly previously when people were fawning over him. Race and colour had no connection with the way Andrew Webster used it at all, and suggests that not only have you strung your longest bow trying to look for something to get cross about that just wasn’t there, but the fact you didn’t recognise it as his nickname in your article suggests a lack of fact checking or basic research. Normally your writing doesn’t seem to be like that so this was disappointing.

  17. Well said, Helen…except for the false ‘javelin toss’ by Goodes. He did not ‘toss a javelin’ or ‘throw a spear’ – he simply raised & held his trailing hand in a pose, Ursain Bolt style – there was no forward motion whatsoever. This is a big deal because it is a very different image portrayed – one which allows cray racists like Bolt to stand up on TV and throw and jab an obvious spear into someones face & claim, falsely, this is what Goodes did. Imagine if Bolt stood up and simply posed, Ursain Bolt, style in a frozen pose…see, very different image….

  18. It’s not just sporting talent. It’s the display of personal talent in a rarified social structure. It’s. A Relentlessly positive metaphor of social structure. All the anarchists I ever knew were rabid sports fans. And no one believes in social structure more than they do. Sport is a hymn to anarchism.

      1. Liberal individualists accept the social order as long as it benefits them. If it does not benefit them, they are not above crime. In fact, I think political complaisance, is mostly due to their lack interest in the subject of governance. They are the locus of imaginative activity in our time but that does not include social organisation. In short, liberal individualists would be anarchists if they thought about it.

  19. The difficulty is where to draw the line. The concept of ‘sportsmanship’ has not entirely dissappeared – We don’t generally think that doing anything to win – including cheating – is acceptable. Different groups of people do draw that line in different places – sledging has become normal in many sports, but for others it crosses the line, where the game is no longer the expression of pure sporting talent. In this context, sledging is a last resort for the unworthy. The opportunity for cheating, however you define that, is the reason sportspeople are held to that higher standard.

    1. Thank you. I woke up this morning and said “lol how do u even do words” so I am glad that you feel I found them.

    1. Apparently, I failed to make myself clear on the matter of discussing sporting morals by saying “let’s not think of sports people as moral” or of the garbage racist discussion surrounding Goodes by saying “fuck that noise”.
      To be clear: fuck that noise. If anyone wants to discipline an unruly Indigenous person, there are openings in corrective services.
      Racism is not only morally wrong, It’s just so tedious.

      1. Yes. I feel like I’m having a fight with my brother. He will insist on terms. I put the caveat at the beginning so I wouldn’t have to play by your rule. I am not a sports fan.

  20. Im not disagreeing but meerly sideswiping. Sport is a morally clear venue. There are in fact rules. People obey them mostly. The rules apply equally. The rest of society doesn’t actually think these three concepts apply to what they do. I think there is no finer metaphor for the rule of law than sport. The concept of soccer or most sports is inherently subversive. Soccer in Russia? China? Its not a coherent statement if supported by the government. The church is gone. Civility is gone. The law is obscure. The politicians are held to moral precepts no one actually believes any voter should be held to. So that is a lie the public tells itself. Who are the moral philosophers people turn to? Said? Fanon? Said would be nice. Most people don’t know who he is. Fanon is an even harder ask. So how about the Australian Rules rule book? A bible few would discredit or ignore. And the players of course are going to have to be the saints. Was Joseph right to fool his father? Discuss.

  21. Helen,

    All good and true……..but…….how does Andrew Webster’s comment that Kyrgios is a wild thing not seem correct because Greeks are a different shade of brown to some other folk? I can’t see how u come to that conclusion.
    Bruce

  22. Well said Helen. Bradman was supposedly a bit of a prick and was not particularly liked amongst the team. Of course in those pre 24hrs news, super sensitive microphones, phone cameras etc etc whatever happened behind closed doors or on tour pretty much stayed that way. Journos were also far more predisposed to give their heroes a pass on any bad behaviour. Heaven know what they would have made of Keith Miller if he was in action these days rather than 70 years ago. He would have out-Warnied Warnie. As for Kyrgios – he is also a prick. But really, how many people get sledged on a sporting field in similar fashion with nothing more of it. Stan War… didn’t even hear it. If not for an on court microphone on sensitivity setting 10+ no-one would have been the wiser. Instead we have chest beaters declaring him a misogynist and slut-shamer and worse. How what he said implies that Vekic is a “slut” is beyond me. Anyhow rant over. Carry on.

  23. Bradman was a great cricketer, and that’s all we can say about him. I’ve read stories that say he got along better, and would rather hang around with, the princes of the boardroom than the sportsmen on the green.
    Love the cricketer, despise the man. Sport is sport, and there are very few sportsmen and women (although a lot more sportswomen than men) that are good all round role models. Steve Waugh springs to mind.
    Kryrgios is just a spoiled brat tennis playing nincompoop. Let him play, but don’t spare time thinking about him.

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