I respect Chris Sandow, and wish him every success
The story of Chris Sandow is well known to those who follow even a little rugby league: he’s bloody tiny, has a heart the size of Queensland, and when he does actually make contact with opposition players, they certainly know it.
He was the league’s top rookie in 2008, has won matches almost single handedly, divides critics and fans alike, and after four years, he is leaving the Souths Sydney Rabbitohs, the Club where he has made his professional debut, to join the Parramatta Eels.
I first met Chris at the southern end of Erskineville Oval as the sun set on a hard training day for the prospective Rabbitohs under 20’s side. I had been asked to meet the new group of promising juniors, and had been well backgrounded on the squad, particularly “Chrissy” as he was already known.
He was a diminutive, bright-eyed young man with prodigious football talents, and a reputation for not completing all his obligations. He had apparently skipped training a few times, with one famous incident involving him being seen on TV watching an NRL feeder side when he was supposed to be somewhere else.
For this and a few other adventures he was dropped by his then NRL team and might have easily slipped into the oblivion that engulfs too many talented kids. Young people are known to stuff up, (I certainly did at that age) and athletes have the additional complication of a bright spotlight for which they have little preparation and often an insufficient safety net.
Fortunately, the people that run the Rabbitohs took the view that with proper support and the right environment he could be helped to achieve his potential.
We are a passionate football club, and our blood runs hot at times. And while the Club is rightly firm at the appropriate time, it is a kind and responsible employer. This environment seemed to help Chris get back on track.
Whether you love him or hate him, he has done some great things on the field. And of course, some less great things.
He’s also developed an ability to handle a hungry media pack, can calm a school room of children, and has a confidence that suggests he will bring great things to his growing family, whomever he plays for.
He’s a product of a mission town in Queensland that has had more than its share of success stories. There is no doubt he is a proud aboriginal man. I am told he still shaking off a few habits that don’t help him, but many thousands of Australians have similar habits. He’s not alone in being a few steps from perfect.
And he takes big steps.
But as an indigenous Australian of 22, his Mum is right to feel incredibly proud of him. Chris will have a great season in 2011 for the Rabbitohs, and he will lead us to the finals. (You can’t love your Club and think anything different.)
Did Parramatta overpay for Chris? I think that is for Parramatta’s members to judge. Something or someone is worth exactly what a buyer is prepared to pay for it. But if you pay more than you can afford, that’s your problem, and that’s bad business.
Shakespeare tells the story of Richard III, knee deep in battle mud, offering to fork over his Kingdom for a horse.
If you had been in the saddle in Bosworth Field that day in 1485, and Richard III had offered you his kingdom, you might have done very well. Nobody could criticize you for taking most of what is now England in exchange for your steed. Indeed, it would have been a very responsible thing to do if you had a young family to look after.
Rugby League was founded on the principle that players have the right to demand whatever they believe is the market worth for their services. No one has to pay it, but they have the unfettered right to ask for it.
In 1895 the English Rugby Football Union prevented working class players receiving any money, even compensation for injuries that prevented them working in their regular employment.
The brave players (and administrators) who founded League in the UK and Australia left the “union” clubs they were playing for, were promptly ostracised and banned for life from the code they loved, merely because they wanted to receive what someone was prepared to pay them for their work.
Loyalty hasn’t died in professional sport: wherever I go, and in whatever sport I am involved in, I always find it inside the best players, riders, and athletes. But no one should ask sportspeople to do something few would do themselves.
Players have an implausibly short playing window, and have very limited options after their professional careers which last, if they are fortunate, as long as did King Richard III - whose ‘last game’ was in the fields of Bosworth at the age 32.
Good luck to Chris, I will enjoy every second of watching him run with the Rabbitohs in 2011 as the team puts its season back on track.
I wish him the best of luck for a long career and I hope he stays involved in the Indigenous community. I have met hundred of indigenous kids of roughly his age, and few have the spark in their eye like he does. Many fall off the track and don’t get the support that Chris was availed, and perhaps he can pass some of his experience and good fortunate back to communities that need it.
Peter Holmes a Court is the co-owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He is currently on sabbatical, somewhere in the middle of France, trying to write a book.
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