Australian golfer Scott Hend agreed with Groth, saying, “If u expect to get paid for a job u love then u will do whatever it takes to go and get it.” Former Australian cricketer Dean Jones tweeted, “Lucky they weren’t cricketers!! We stayed overseas 3-4 months at times without families.”
Yep, we get it. Tennis players, golfers and cricketers spend an enormous amount of time overseas trying to carve out a career and make an honest living. It’s tough. Not everyone makes the eye-watering amount of money Roger Federer and Tiger Woods have. Many players battle from tournament to tournament, country to country, living out of suitcases in budget hotels with no certainty of how much money they’ll make from one week to the next. Groth described it as “draining”, but it’s undoubtedly lonely, too.
But as tough as it is, that’s the gig. All aspiring tennis players and golfers know that if they make the big time, they will have to travel for more months of the year than not. They go in with their eyes wide open and know what they’ll have to sacrifice from the start.
The situation is very different for AFL players. Many of them are drawn to the game because of its domestic nature, which enables them to live a relatively normal existence with a healthy balance between their life as an elite athlete and their life as an ordinary citizen.
They are not the bad guys. Nowhere in the last collective bargaining agreement did it state that they’d be required to spend months at a time away from their families. If it did, collectively they may have lobbied for more money, or simply refused to sign on the dotted line.
Yet now in these strange times, many expect them to do whatever it takes to get the game going again. Apparently, everyone wins. The AFL gets to kickstart its season after a lengthy hiatus, ensuring vital revenues from their broadcasters; the fans get their game back; and the players get to play.
But there is a cost. For the players, the balance between sport and life will be utterly lost. Not only will they be completely isolated from their partners, kids, parents and friends, they will have no escape. Just what are the players expected to do when they’re not playing and training? There are only so many meetings they can hold.
But in truth, the danger extends beyond that to notions of health and wellbeing, which is one of the biggest issues confronting sports organisations in the professional age. Let’s not forget that last year when NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked how he would describe today’s group of super-rich, popular players he said: “When I meet with them, what surprises me is that they’re truly unhappy.”
Keep in mind Silver was speaking about the highest paid players in the sport’s history, where the best of them receive salaries of more than $35 million a year.
A professional athlete’s health and wellbeing is no small thing, especially in the intense world of serious, modern professional sport. And it shouldn’t, under any circumstance, be compromised. Not even for a game of footy.
Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.