Even if you think that Peter Costello occasionally makes a reasonable point in his column on sportspeople as role models, it’s hard to see his arguments maintaining any real credibility.
Let’s consider three of his major points:
1) “It is common these days for successful sports people to establish philanthropic foundations. Ricky Ponting has one, as does Steve Waugh. And, of course, there is the Shane Warne Foundation ‘which raises funds to enrich the lives of seriously ill and underprivileged children’. Helping underprivileged children is admirable, but I can’t help thinking that one of those clever publicists has convinced cricketers that charity work will enhance their image and their brand.”
So, what if he’s right?
Firstly, let’s ignore the fact that Costello implies that people are completely unable to give to charity out of the goodness of their own hearts without seeking any glory in return. For while this may be a disappointingly cynical opinion of mankind, that’s not really the most important point.
For what’s more important is that even if Costello is right, then the world is still a better place for the charitable works of these “philanthropic” sportsmen and sportswomen. Are the motives of Shane Warne a concern at all to those underprivileged or seriously ill children who receive assistance from Warne’s Foundation? In fact, if one takes Costello’s concept a step further, mightn’t the idea that a sportsperson’s “brand” will shine more brightly if they give time or money to those in need actually be beneficial in encouraging other cynical sportspeople to devote some of their own profits to charity too?
2) “Some St Kilda footballers were asked to visit a local high school to motivate the students. One of the girls alleged that she later became pregnant to one of them. Claiming to have lost the baby, she said she felt let down by the club and began releasing embarrassing photographs of the players.”
So, what if he’s right?
According to the most recent media reports, Costello is technically correct with this statement, but he’s certainly omitted some important information too. As former Crow and current spokesperson for the AFL Players Association Ben Hart pointed out, “To have a cheap shot about the St Kilda situation, when the facts of that matter [are] the players didn’t meet the young woman in question at that camp, is pretty rough…I don’t think there’s any evidence of any bad behaviour at community clinics, so we’re disappointed that there’s an implication there has been.”
Of course, Costello never says that anything actually happened at the school itself – he said that the girl “alleged that she later” [emphasis added] became pregnant and was let down. Of course, this is just as well as The Age found in January that “’The young woman has confirmed that the players did not pursue her, provide her with their number or act in any way that was inappropriate at the AFL school visit, and that she first met the players socially in Sydney after the round-one Sydney Swans match on March 27.’”
Similarly, Justice Shane Marshall of the Federal Court has found that the photos in question were taken by one of the players, and many media reports claim they were stolen from the player’s laptop.
But Costello is, technically, right – that all happened “later,” just like he said it did.
3) “Footballers are not chosen for their moral principles. They do not go into a national draft for budding philanthropists. They can run and catch and kick a ball. What are the clubs thinking when they send them to schools to give guidance on life skills? Any right-thinking parent would quake with fear to hear that footballers were coming to their daughter’s school to give a little bit of inspiration.
“Motivating the students is the last thing the club or the league is thinking about. They are working on the brand.”
So, what if he’s right?
Costello argues that, thanks to the St.Kilda incident and thanks to the fact that all AFL wants to do is work on their brand, footballers should not be speaking to school groups.
Let’s take this to its inevitable conclusion:
- If relatively reputable footballers – let’s say Adam Goodes – shouldn’t speak to school groups because of what happened with the St.Kilda players and an underage girl, then relatively reputable politicians – let’s say Peter Costello – shouldn’t speak to school groups either because of what happened with Silvio Berlusconi and an underage girl.
- If Costello believes that people who are “working on their brand” shouldn’t speak to school groups because of their motives, then surely any person who earns money from being a “Motivational Speaker” is especially dubious in this regard. Take the list of those at ICMI for example. If footballers are only trying to improve their brand, then the likes of Kay Cottee, Li Cunxin, Louise Savage and Sir Bob Geldof – who are paid for their speaking appearances and need to maintain a good “brand” through these appearances if they are to earn other speaking invitations – are even more morally dubious.
- Of course, if footballers are only speaking to students in an attempt to work on their brand, then all politicians – who don’t only work on their brand during such appearances, but often openly try to sell their brand to students – certainly shouldn’t be permitted to speak either.
On top of these points, there is a bigger question that now must also be asked: how are we to view the motives of Costello himself through his writing of his column? One assumes that he’s not trying to encourage sportspeople to undertake less charity work, so could one reasonably (or should that be cynically) suspect that Costello is trying to position his own “brand” here? Perhaps this is his way of branding himself as one of Australia’s newer, more colourful media identities…a post he hopes to maintain and earn money from throughout his time as a retired politician?