DISCORD 2013: Edition Nine
Off-field problems ... Ben Barba Photo: Getty Images
And so to Ben (nee Benji) Barba.
For the past two months, untold amounts of newsprint has been given over to torturous tales of pre-season army camps, sand hills and training sessions in the scorching sun.
“I felt like giving up,” our heroes have been quoted as saying. “I pushed myself to the edge. I questioned my decision to join (insert name of club).”
But when Ben Barba told a trainer in Goulburn last weekend, “I don't want to play footy any more,” it was a completely different matter. Barba has been having troubles off the field, as we all well know, and has been given time by his club to address these.
We all go into a very conventional way of thinking when these things happen, don't we? Once he gets his life in order, we assume, Ben Barba will be back.
It is a given in our society that if you are good at something, if you win acclaim for your abilities, and you are paid a lot of money for it, you will do it for as long as you can.
Why does it have to be like that? Discord would submit that this is only the norm because people accumulate responsibilities and pressures when they are successful, and are locked into doing what got them there, usually by financial factors.
I know I have written here before about our sport fawning over Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Folau, and how it shows a lack of self-respect on our part.
That is no indictment on those players' ambitions, even if the way SBW pursued his was initially offensive. In fact, I would contest that the most satisfying way for anyone to negotiate a working life is to become exceptional at something, quit, do something completely different, and repeat until retirement or death.
More of us would do that without the straps of responsibility digging into our shoulders, to paraphrase the character Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air.
If you are young, well paid, intelligent and beholden to no one there is nothing wrong with deciding you want to do something else even when the rest of the world wants you to stay where you are. To quote a lyric written by Warriors fan Jon Toogood: “When you go against the grain, do you know how beautiful you are?”
So beyond all the homilies and well-intentioned reassurances, we should afford Ben Barba the ultimate “space”, “compassion” and “freedom”.
The freedom to get his life in order, be a perfectly balanced human being, and still not “want to play footy any more”.
THE best part of the new NRL commercial is women being depicted playing rugby league – or touch footy – rather than just cheering in the stands.
Many have seen the Women In League round as having a hint of tokenism in recent years with washing jumpers and working in the canteen given more plaudits than actually putting on the boots and playing.
It is to be hoped women's rugby league becomes more closely associated with the men's game in Australia, as it is in New Zealand.
I'm back in Oz now after five months on the road, and I want to thank everyone who has supported the column since it was taken on by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Last week, Red Top said turning down the Auckland Nines offer would be a sign of insularity among NRL clubs. But isn't the fact they are set to play it among themselves a sign of insularity anyway?
Don't Get It made some points about safety and tackling styles. But if techniques that were once safe are now dangerous, I still think doctors need to protect players from them.
Tony said the Auckland Nines would fail – I assume he means commercially. All the more reason, then, for us to get something out of it for ourselves. See my column in Wednesday's Rugby League Week.
Andy Daley argued that Auckland is also a league town. I would say it is the biggest league town in New Zealand, for sure! And the only place where the game sometimes gives rugby union a run for its money.
Thomas Foolery said the club season should only go for 22 rounds. He's right, of course, but we are now locked into television contract in which the game has offered broadcasters 26 – so it's not going to change any time soon.
Gav asked what was happening with the UK television rights for the NRL. I get asked this every second day. There is a theory out there that they have been bought by the new BT Vision platform, which won't be on air until August. That's why nothing is being said. Whether round one is available on Ustream … will be very interesting indeed.
Timmy83 said he was told by the NRL that Setanta would be broadcasting games online and on TV – but wasn't sure of the territories. Thanks for the info, Timmy.
James Cook questioned Cameron Smith's opposition to the Nines. I am not sure the banning of the shoulder charge will improve rugby league James – it's just a necessary evil. As for Cameron, if he has concerns for players' welfare because of an increasing workload, I would have thought it was commendable that he speak up. It's just an opinion, after all – until the RLPA gets involved.
Podcast will be back next week