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Men wanted. Desperately.

Anne Wickham, 13 June 2013

In a week that’s seen the resignation of Swimming Australia boss Barclay Nettlefold and yet another violent outburst during the State of Origin defended by the powers that be, I believe it’s time for every code and every sport to be part of turning around what has become an ugly, excuse riddled sub-culture.

First, we must stop referring to men who play professional sport as boys. They are not boys, they are fully-grown men. Language matters, and labels influence behaviour. The boys I know get into all sorts of trouble, but because they are children it’s forgivable.

The men in my life protect and support their partners, families, friends and colleagues. They enjoy a bit of banter, but never put others down. They shrug off stupid behaviour rather than retaliate. They don’t refer to themselves as donkeys, or other people as monkeys. They feel let down by those who do.

We also need to treat sportspeople as human beings, and not commodities. This means selecting players not only for their technical skills, but also their fit with the values their teams and sports espouse. Culture matters enormously. Every-day behaviours define brands and reputations, and culture underpins every long-term success. Successful businesses and brands weed out behaviours and employees that threaten their culture. They don’t make excuses for them.

Last week, a taxi driver told me that he’d picked up a household-name rugby league player shortly after 5am that morning with two other players and a female who all appeared to be under the influence of drugs. He said: “I was star struck when he got in my cab, but after a couple of minutes I was thinking that women who can think for themselves would never go out with a fella like that.”

Exactly. And no right thinking employer would want them representing their brand either.

So I’m throwing out a challenge to every male captain who is interviewed by the media to say: “I am really proud of how the men played this week.” It might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but trust me, your fans and team-mates will take notice and it won’t be long until being called a man will fit like a glove and be something to take pride in.

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