Ban changed Slipper for the better

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Just a few months ago, James Slipper wasn’t sure what direction he was taking in his life.

Two positive drug tests had triggered an automatic two-month suspension from all forms of rugby and a host of his private demons became public.

The punishment was a flash point for Slipper, who had been struggling with mental health issues due to the illness of his mother and injuries, to change his life around and let those around him in.

The 29-year-old was this week selected to make his rugby return for the Australian Super Rugby selection against the Wallabies and the Slipper who spoke to the media on Wednesday was far different from the man in a downward spiral not long ago.

“I let a lot of people down and I couldn't be more sorry for that and more embarrassed for what I've done,” he said.

“I've obviously gone through a bit of a rough patch and made some poor decisions and probably wasn't coping with certain aspects of my life that I was going through at the time.

“At the end of the day it brought it to a head and I've addressed quite a few things and it's probably something that's going to have to stay with me for a while, continually trying to work on myself to become a better person and a positive outcome.

“But at the time I didn't see a healthy ending there for a bit.”

Slipper spoke candidly to reporters about his journey and was quick to take responsibility for the decisions that ultimately forced him off the field.

“It (the suspension) forced me to step away from the game and deservedly so but it forced me to actually have a real good look at myself and seek professional help and I was doing that the whole way through as well but I just wasn't coping,” he said.

“I'm just so lucky to be back here and given an opportunity to play against the Australian team whether I play many minutes or not but it'll be interesting.”

An open conversation with his parents was the trigger for a change for Slipper to become more communicative and it was a shift that showed in his first public duty in months.

“I was one of those typical blokes who kept saying I was alright and I clearly was struggling a bit there but as soon as I opened up to my mum and my dad and told them I was struggling it kind of lifted a weight off the shoulders and I could really address the issues,” he said.

"I was one of those blokes who didn't want to talk, simple as that and it was to my own detriment and I've paid the penalty for that and it's something I'm going to have to live by for the rest of my life.

"Yo've got to own your mistakes too and that's what I intend on doing."

His late call-up into this Friday’s pre-Bledisloe trial is the first on-field step for Slipper, giving him a professional purpose on top of his newfound personal clarity.

“I feel like it's important just having that purpose and having a bit of drive in your life,” he said.

“I've spent a lot of time with my family and that sort of stuff and it's been a long three months.

“I haven't felt this happy in a long time, everything's out in the open, my communication with my own family's a lot better.

“It is what it is. It's probably a good time now to come out and talk and give you guys (the media) respect and own up.”

Though he admits he’s ‘not fixed’, Slipper hopes he can be a positive influence on the next generation of young people.

“I want to be a positive outcome. That's always been in the back of my head, once I get through the hard bit, to be a positive influence on someone,” he said.

“I don't know what that looks like right now, I've solely been focusing on myself but it's something I have spoken to people about and I think it'd be important for me to do that.

“Obviously, I'm living proof that you make bad decisions, you get penalised but you can stop that from happening if you're open and honest and speak out a bit earlier.”