Holbeck: Are players selfish or professionals?

by James Holbeck

Are our rugby players selfish, greedy and entitled?

Much has been said over last ten years of Australian rugby's culture of elitism.

More recently the structural governance of the game has been at the forefront of discussion but usually mentioned is the influence of private schools and high performance academies.

Questioned is the influence of those institutions on the attitude of our professional players.

Robbie Deans had questioned the attitude of some players. Photo: Getty ImagesRobbie Deans a few years ago cryptically seemed to suggest that Wallaby players in his time seemed more interested in seeking free cab fares after games than in wanting to amend for their losses.

In the recent debate, Brett Papworth has challenged the elite focus of the administration, taking a shot at high performance academies for separating identified players from the grounding experience of grass roots club rugby.

Rather than write on the well-covered debate, or question players’ own motives, I will attempt to address the pressure that professionalism has added to players in their own personal battle to maintain their love for the game against the draw of greed, selfishness and entitlement, a fight many others and I often lost.

To do this I have a story from Psychology 101…

Plenty of things have changed since the start of the professional era. Photo: Getty  ImagesThere was once an old lady who lived in an old brick house in Australian suburbia. She would water her front garden every morning, then she would take the time to look out upon her beloved garden from inside while sipping on her fresh cup of tea. 

One day she watched as two young boys swaggered up her driveway. She sat stunned as they picked up a handful of gravel before throwing the rocks up onto her roof (if you follow rugby league, feel free to substitute eggs for rocks).

Even before she had made her way out the door the boys were halfway down the street. They turned back to laugh at how much fun they had just had and their joy increased at the response of the old lady who was now shaking her fist.

This went on for a whole week before the lady found herself confronted with the boys as she watered her garden. What was she to do?

Without thinking she forwarded that she would pay for their efforts as long as they came by at the same time each day so that she could be safe inside her home.

The boys looked at each other overwhelmed! “We are going to get paid for this?! “Yes, how does $2 each sound?" she asked. 

Israel Folau is an Australian rugby superstar. Photo: Getty ImagesAfter a week of this fun, the old lady again confronted the boys. She had been thinking and wanted to better reward them. She said I am going to pay you each $3 per day to rock my roof. The boys started to feel that they had a purpose and each day turned up excited to fulfill their destiny.

The third week the old lady greeted them again as they walked up her path. The boys had high expectations as they quickly asked what she was going to pay this week! They stood dumbfounded as the words fell from her lips as if in slow motion. “This week I’m going to pay you $1 each,” she croaked.

The boys looked at each other and turned in disgust to walk off. As they did this one shouted in disbelief, "You can shove your roof! We won’t even pick up a rock for less than $5."

And with that, they stormed off down the road, disgruntled and never to be seen again. 

The moral of the story is that what we love to do for the sake of just doing an activity can easily be bought with external things such as prestige, money, fame and the power that comes with it. 

Kurtley Beale is one player taking up a big-money offer overseas. Photo: Getty ImagesThe young players in our game are initially driven by their love for rugby and perhaps already a sense of accomplishment and an identity it affords. Money at first is a privilege.

To be paid for something you love doing is incredible! Then the temptation comes of wanting more money in relation to other players. The struggle is real!

Some players are naturally going to get paid more than others. Professional jealousy and then entitlement are two other elements that can destroy the love of the game. The boys in the story expected more money and after a short time felt entitled to it. Imagine if they heard the boys rocking the roof next door were getting paid more than they. Not fair!!

Money clouds our players' motivation and actually can steal away one’s love of the game. When the money was removed in the story it illustrates that the love of doing what they did simply for fun had disappeared. It had been stolen by greed. This is something our players have to fight against, for their own sake.

This lure for money and the jealousy and entitlement that comes with it will be there as more money comes into women’s rugby as it has for the men.

Although players need to fight these temptations by continually reflecting on what they love about the game and understanding their privileged position, Australian rugby should ensure they are creating environments that encourage a respect and love of the game itself.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.