Team sports, drunkenness and personal responsibility

I’ve been interested in the coverage of Nate Myles’ drunken bender over the weekend, not so much in the purient interest of defecating in the hallway and banging on the door of a family trying to check out, but the coverage itself, and the way in which it makes a 24 year old man who has been at the peak of his game for years into a silly child, and what it all uncovers about Australian society and our attitude to alcohol.

The language that’s used in regards to Myles suggests a toddler, unable to make decisions on his own. Nine MSN describes it as the “hotel poo” incident. Channel Nine news describes it thusly: “Rugby League has a new Bad Boy”. Fox Sports describes him as being “in trouble again”.

Not language that you would use to describe a man, but a toddler. Somehow, it wasn’t Myles’ choice to drink so much he couldn’t tell the difference between the bathroom door and the door to his hotel suite. Somehow, he couldn’t decide to lay off the booze to recover from a tummy bug (which is his excuse reason for the embarrassing brown pile on the floor).

Do we have a double standard in regards to drunkenness in sportspeople and in society at large? Sort of. In sport, particularly male team sports, it’s just fine and dandy for men to be drinking and get drunk. As long as they don’t get caught. I don’t imagine we’d know about Myles and his roomies running up and down the corridors of the hotel at 3:45am, banging on the doors of the other hotel rooms unless there was an embarrassing reason to bring our attention to it.

Much has been made of the link between the Roosters and drunken assaults, domestic violence and alcohol, which is hardly surprising when the coach seems to have the same need to get plastered.

However, it seems to be part of the elite male team sport dynamic that alcohol is used to build team spirit. That if you don’t drink, you aren’t one of the boys. That attitude flows accross every pub in Australia, like it or not. Sure, most men don’t have the same access to funds and travel as elite sportsmen, but drinking and drunkenness is seen as the norm.

It’s often said, “never trust someone who doesn’t drink”, but this seems like hiding behind the fear that male drunkenness will be exposed and called out. Drunkenness becomes a shared experience – what happens on tour, stays on tour. There is mutual transgression, the sharing and hiding of which creates a bond of (dis)trust.

Yes, I drink. Yes, on occasion I get plastered. And I have been known to be obnoxious. I have behaved in ways that I’ve really regretted, as Myles appears to, the next day. And tried to make amends for my drunken behaviour. I’ve walked, head down, hearing everyone whispering about what happened last night.

Its not something I’m proud of. Its not something I do often. And when I used to do it the most is when I drank to be one of the boys.