David Pocock: Rugby star's social conscience sparks hypocrisy

April 8, 2015

David Pocock is a rugby player in the Australian national rugby union team. He was also recently arrested. In reacting to his arrest and the reason for it, some have suggested that Pocock may not be the right man to captain the Wallabies in the future.

This is not a tale of assault and drunken debauchery, though. This is the tale of a man who has proved his leadership qualities in a way that should be commended.

Late last year, Pocock was arrested after chaining himself to a digger in protest against a coalmine that was under construction in the Leard State Forest, in New South Wales.

These are the qualities we attribute to sportspeople and leaders. As a sportsperson is asked to do, he put his body in harm’s way in order to achieve a greater objective. The only difference is that in this case, the objective was of genuine worth and could influence things beyond the sporting field.

It seems we are asked to cheer bravery as long as it is kept to the sporting field, but should it stray to the realms of genuine social significance, we should offer no support. “Boys will be boys” and other such platitudes are trotted out to defend violent and aggressive behaviour committed by players as drunk on their fame as they are on alcohol, but no such defence is launched for someone like Pocock.

Pocock’s stands for social justice have made their way onto the rugby field. Homophobic slurs by players from the NSW team, the Waratahs, marred a game with the ACT Brumbies in the rugby union competition, the Super 15. Pocock approached the referee twice in the closing minutes of the game to voice his disapproval of such language.

The Waratahs player who had used homophobic slurs was identified as Jacques Potgeiter. To his credit, he apologised and visited Sydney’s first gay rugby team, the Sydney Convicts, to offer his apology in person.

Much was made of Pocock’s decision to bring up the issue on the field. But the most significant aspect was missed: it was unusual for someone to stand up and voice concerns rather than just let things be and not establish a precedent.

Pocock is not alone in the Brumbies in protesting homophobia. A teammate, Matt Toomua, was on the lead float at the last Mardi Gras parade in Sydney as a result of his passionate campaigning for gay rights.

The onus should not be on Pocock to stay silent in the face of homophobia but on everyone else to not resort to homophobic slurs used to accuse the opposition of weakness and in doing so, equate homosexuality to weakness.

It is this warped view of strength and weakness that has led to many of the issues we see in sport. It is strong to give chase to another player sprinting down the AFL field. It is strong to put everything you have into a scrum on a rugby union field. It is strong to push and fight and struggle on the netball court.

It is not acknowledged enough yet that the strength of a player turning to the referee and focusing on social issues rather than the ball, is far stronger, when there are tens of thousands of people there watching, cheering for their respective teams.

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