Social media entered into the public domain amidst a frenzy of expectation that a direct line between us, the public, and the sports stars, actors, world leaders and general elite, was now a reality.
Donald Trump’s midnight musings aside, never has a promise proven so unfulfilled than when James Pattinson’s older brother made his Test debut for England. The most excitement we’ve had has been in watching the unlikely bromance between David Warner and Fawad Ahmed unfold.
It was refreshing, therefore, to hear a current athlete, a former captain of Australia’s cricket team no less, air his views earlier this week in a candid and forthright manner, live on air. It was better still to see that when the coverage of these views started circulating, a few of Cameron White’s contemporaries went so far as to ‘like’ tweets quoting him.
Audacious. Careful chaps.
Better still, when Australia’s interim chairman of selectors, Trevor Hohns, launched a verging-on-ad-hominem rebuke, a few more voices rallied behind White.
It doesn’t happen often enough, so sterilised has the world of professional sport become. Social media was once heralded as the portal into these divine creatures’ day-to-day thoughts and lives.
Now it is nothing more than a platform for product endorsements, vacuous clichés marvelling at their own or their teammates’ (the humble brag) sporting performances, and other artificial nonsense dispersed systematically at the direction of their sport’s governing body.
This being the case, it is now with a reluctance, often borne only of a job in journalism, that many of us follow any of these athletes at all. An admission – they’re mostly on mute. It does at least make for some amusement when a team is directed by those in charge to endorse some event, sponsor, or cause through social media, and to see the ensuing stream of identical tweets. Individual expression never stood a chance.
One of the few cricketers worth a follow, however, is Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen isn’t so much an exception to the rule as someone who has made it his life’s work to rally against authority.
It has, however, cost him; Pietersen was the victim of his own independent – at times ill-judged – thought, it being one of the key factors in his tempestuous departure from the England set-up.
In going beyond the point of no return, however, Pietersen now relishes the freedom, picking fights with anyone that crosses his path, Australian team coach or otherwise. His on-field performances haven’t withered; on the contrary, this globetrotting mercenary has thrived.
Modern-day coaching extols the virtues of letting a player express themselves, and play their natural game. Why then, should this be confined to within the boundary ropes?
Ed Cowan, albeit in a more refined manner, is another with a tendency not to conform. He, like Pietersen, was among the handful to ‘like’ the tweet covering White’s comments. Cowan’s approach is perhaps more subtle, but in a week which has seen him top the runs across the Sheffield Shield, it’s a shame to think an inquiring mind may prevent him from ever again playing for Australia.
“There was a growing sense among players and the ACA that any public comment would be met with a disproportionate response by Cricket Australia,” lamented the player’s union in response to Hohn’s comments this week. Instead of ‘disproportionate response’, read ‘a player’s career prospects’. It’s a dire state of affairs when anything other than a player’s on-field performances, and contribution to the team’s performance, becomes a factor in this.
The reigning UFC Lightweight Champion, Conor McGregor, is an example of the virtues of outspoken sportsmen. Cricket Australia, so intent on making money from their pursuits, may do well to take a leaf out of this champion athlete, whose rising star has made him one of the most captivating, and marketable sportsmen in recent history.
McGregor is the biggest pay-per-view draw in mixed martial arts, and one of, if not the, highest earners in world sport. No little part of that is from his ability to entertain outside the ring.
Emerging sporting talents, increasingly in the guise of female athletes, make for an interesting spectacle through their transition from unruly amateurs to toe-the-line professionals.
Media training is now a compulsory component of any high-level outfit. I should know, I’ve sat through it. It comprises everything we shouldn’t do, and examples of others’ wrongdoing, rather than mention the benefits of a proactive approach.
At least Grace Harris, the fiery Queenslander, still enjoys one of the most varied Twitter biographies: ‘meat pies in football season, ice cream in cricket season, chocolate always!’
Of course for many professional athletes, often the best, a closely managed public profile may be no bad thing, as arguably those that are most successful are the dullest, their single-mindedness the very reason for this success. Still, each player is different, and most will have honest, refreshing and perceptive insights that at present no one dares air.
Cameron White, like him or not, did dare. A divisive and often combative character, he did things the hard way, grinding it out back on the club circuit when form wasn’t on his side, and he has reason enough to speak out against Australia’s current selection policy. Justified and rational, yet not what the powers that be wanted to hear.
The odds of seeing him in an Australian shirt anytime soon aren’t in his favour.
England had its KP saga as Australia looked on in mild amusement – surely this is warning enough not to have a repeat. Let the cricket do the talking, and allow, even encourage, the players to be independent-minded, not just in the name of their cricket careers, but for their existence as human beings.