I have watched with a mix of astonishment and bemusement at the latest round of drama that seems to follow Australian Rugby Union player Kurtley Beale wherever he goes. For those who missed the drama of the week was Beale and is oft partner in crime, James O’Connor, being caught at a hamburger restaurant at 4am in the aftermath of the Melbourne Rebels’ defeat by the British and Irish Lions on Tuesday night. There was, apparently, no alcohol involved but they were still out eating a hamburger at 4am four days before they were due to play in a test match.
Kurtley Beales other indiscretions have been well documented but are worth rementioning: an assault charge that was settled at mediation, punching two of his (now former) teammates whilst on tour with his (also now former) Super Rugby franchise and then a breach of strict alcohol rules are the known behavioural issues that have faced Beale in the last 18 months. I am all for people being given second chances and now that Beale is seemingly on his fifth chance with the ARU I have had a moment of pause to consider this question: if Beale was employed by anyone other than the Australian Rugby Union would he still be employed?
I have already written in an earlier blog about the special treatment received (having both positive and negative impacts on them) in the context of poor behaviour. I have also written about the presumption of innocence and how important it is to remember that presumption in the context of the regular imbroglios sports stars seem to find themselves presently.
All that said, I think it is pretty obvious that the answer to the question posed in the preceding is a resounding “NO”. Let’s put Beale’s conduct in the context of someone who works in a professional context. I am happy to use myself as the guinea pig here: I work for a large firm in the city. My working hours are malleable but are generally between 7:45am and 6:30pm with a couple of days of work on weekends a month the norm. I have a team of 11 people that work for me and sit in a broader team of about 70 people. I am bound by a contract of employment with my employer that regulates my conduct during work hours and also, as is standard, requires me to follow the lawful directions of my employer.
Starting then with the obvious, I can never recall any occasion during my 15 year career in the work force where I have had moment to be out until 4am and then stop to grab a burger on a work night? Perhaps on the way to work before a large mediation or if I have a heap of work on maybe but not because I felt like going out and meeting up with some mates. How could any professional function in their job after, obviously, no sleep the night before.
The assault charge is a difficult one: I am fairly sure that my employer, or any employer in the professional work force, would be extremely displeased with an employee being charged with assault. I am unsure as to whether such a scenario would be grounds for immediate dismissal but I am pretty sure the said employee would be at least given a formal warning.
Then we turn to the combination of punching a fellow team mate and then ignoring a direction not to drink: can anyone think of any context in which an employee in a professional context would survive with his or her job intact after having a drunken brawl with two of his / her colleagues? I am pretty sure if I punched one of my fellow directors and one of the partners (given that G Delve was captain of the team at the time) on a boozy night out I would not be receiving just a warning: my employment would be terminated. If, however, I did survive and receive a warning on the condition that my employment would continue on the proviso that I not break the team rules again then surely breaking said rules would mean that I would be terminated and have to find a new job wouldn’t it? I have no doubt it would.
Sportstars are regularly crying that we (being the fans and the media) do not “understand how much pressure they are under”. Forgive me for not giving any sympathy: after all said sportstars are paid to play sport. The other regular refrain from sportstars and their apologists are that they are held to a higher standard because of the “celebrity” and that is unfair. With all due respect to those who push that argument: how can you say that when, in fact, it would appear based the available evidence that sportstars are held to a lower standard by their employers than anyone else who had a professional job in this country?
My gripe here is not with Kurtley Beale and his mate O’Connor: I am not surprised that they were caught out (again). My gripe is with the spinelessness of their employers. Actually, it is worth noting that my gripe is not just with the ARU at this juncture because afterall we have, in recent times also had the displeasure of seeing the following conduct rewarded with continued employment (by the governing body of the game):
1. Semi-regular abuse of opposing players, abuse of journalists doing their job and punching an opposing player (David Warner); and
2. Complete and open disregard for the authority of one’s employer, failing to follow a direction not to drink alcohol before training and sending a photographic message to one’s coach of your contempt for him (Josh Dugan).
The governing bodies of the sports we love are doing themselves and those that they employ who do the right thing a disservice by not handling these matters like any other employer would. How will players who behave badly or, indeed, just stupidly ever learn their lesson if they are not punished as someone in everyday life would be? A semi-regular refrain from those in sport is that they just want to be treated like regular every day people but they can not have their metaphorical cake and eat it to; viz., if they want to be treated like everyone else they also must be treated like everyone else when it comes to their employment and NOT with the special treatment they seem to presently receive.
I am not talking about forcing people out of sport because they make a mistake here and I am a massive believer of second chances in life. Getting a second chance though comes with it learning from ones mistakes and I question how someone receiving the special treatment when it comes to appointment that sportstars do will ever learn from their mistakes? Getting caught out at 4am 4 days before a test match indicates that Kurtley Beale has not learned his lesson.
All that said: how good would it be to be on the same sort of contract that Beale and others must be on which entitles them to, seemingly, do whatever they want whenever they want without thought to the consequences? I wonder where I can get one of them?