Progressive, Courageous, Smart, Brave, Dangerous, Disastrous.


The media got what they always wanted yesterday, and they didn't like it. 

I probably don't need to tell you who Ben Barba is.

I probably don’t need to tell you, how prestigious the class you join, when you become Dally M Player of the year.

Before yesterdays announcement, Ben Barba had already received as much attention as any athlete can in pre-season.

Face of the game, check, hat-trick and MoM (man of match), check, check. check, check, all in his first test and the Leagues opening yearly showcase of elite talent, the 2013 NRL All Star Classic.

I probably don’t need to tell what raw talent looks either, Barba shows you that.

But what I’m sure is, we all could know something about, Mental Health.

What we saw yesterday from Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg was a masters class in how to manage, if you've never heard the sound of a room full of sports journalists eyes not blinking, Greenbergs press conference was it.

The media got what they always wanted yesterday, and they didn't like it. 

Regardless of intention, presenting the Ben Barba story as a mental health issue and not poor player mis-behaviour, actions, punishment, or nuanced behaviour to player mis-conduct. 

CEO Todd Greenberg presenting the Ben Barba story as Mental Health, was, progressive, courageous, smart, and more overly, intrinsically disastrous and dangerous. And all this will probably fall somewhere in the middle.

Progressive, Courageous, Smart, Brave, Dangerous, Disastrous. 

The media got what they always wanted yesterday, and they didn't like it. 

The reason I say all this, is so i can say this, what the media wanted and always wants, is the raw  and attractive facts, the who, what, when, where, why. And while i don’t doubt CEO Greenberg knows those details, the media didn’t get them this time, and he wasn’t going to confirm them either. 

Interestingly enough, one quote from the press conference stood out most for this writer, when a journalist was pushing Greenberg for more details to what exactly happened over the weekend, Greenbergs reply.

"the small details... don't help this club, they don’t help me, and they certainly don't help Ben"

This is interesting for the sole reason, I can’t imagine that reply washing, twenty years ago, a decade ago, heck, maybe even 5 years ago to a room full of hype. I can’t imagine that washing, coming from a business CEO, that his gun executive caused the company substantial loss to shareholders, due to mental health. Yet its not uncommon or even interesting, when we see almost weekly, the nations courts roll out civilian trials with prosecution of a grandmother* stealing Millions, yup, i said Millions, from small business to fuel a pokie addiction, that’s caused by mental health. 

Mental Health and Rugby League is not a new narrative either, we've seen this before*, think Immortal Andrew Johns, but what makes Greenbergs and Barbas' case unique, is that this time, it wasn't delivered, contrived, rolled out, packaged or however you wish to word it, what's inherently different here, is that this time, Mental Health wasn't an after thought, a side-note, a easter egg, a bonus, a late addition, a poor and delayed excuse. What’s different here, is that this time, it was delivered with out the smell of Houdini smoke screens and ill ill, bad intentions from the back room.

What you, the media, and I got yesterday was, a lesson, a lesson that Mental Health is complex, mental health is real, and Barbas’ condition, while appearing new to me, you, and the press, did not seem new to Greenberg, Greenbergs press conference demeanour to Barbas’ Mental Health condition, was compassionate, caring, and from what I could tell, not rehearsed that morning, Greenberg was aware, informed, controlled, not alarmed.

What happened yesterday was showing the game, the administration, the press, you, me and fans are changing, and that’s a good thing, we are changing in a way where a level of decency and understanding be formerly attached first and understood to a condition, we as a whole don’t greatly understand, before we go and tear it all down in a blaze of bullied bravado. 

The stigma attached to mental health is colossal, and having to deal with it, explain it, correct it, an then having to be mentally ill as well, would be and,  is exhausting and tiring, its no wonder Barba wished to keep his condition, private from his public image. However, being Mentally ill does not excuse bad behaviour and can even be used beneficially, its not all bad news, being mentally ill does have enormous advantages, however with that, it also comes packaged with a whole side cart of characteristics for namesake, titled, undesirables. These undesirables are anything but simple to explain, they're, predictable, unpredictable, manic, genius, planned, not planned, great, not so great, etcetera etcetera.

The Media didn’t get what they wanted yesterday, because they finally got an answer. 

Mental Health: ‘Ben Barba is ill and he needs help,’’ Greenberg said. ‘

There are no prizes on offer, or points to be scored for stating the obvious in all this, that, there is clearly, undoubtedly, obesely attractive tabloid details unpublished to Barbas’ most recent events and behaviour, and wether or not this, contributed or caused to have punctuated Barbas condition to apex in the manner it has.

Progressive, Courageous, Smart, Brave, Dangerous, Disastrous. 

I attached the words dangerous and disastrous here, because the margin for error in all this for Greenburg, the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and Barba is  immensely greatly small. Its so small that, if there is even a hint of misinformation, key facts left out, too much police involvement, too much grey, or smelling like mental health arises too often to describe moral and ethically bad behaviour, or even choosing the wrong word, could bring all this down, all this will come down so fast, you cant even sing, Who let the dogs out, because they’ve truly gone. We love to catch people out, we like to say, i told you so, i knew that, what did i tell you, when rarely ever, it never ever matters anyways. 

You hear that? that’s the sound of sections of the press, enemies, trolls and people who don’t even know Ben Barba yet, readying to denounce VIII Premiership winning NRL club Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs Leagues Club, as the Leagues lost cause, sad zone and basket case of no hope, when in reality, when looking at its, challenges, demographics, socially and culturally, they are perhaps our proudest.

Mental Health and Sport isn’t just a local or unique issue, its everywhere, recently in an interview for US Sports Grantland, author, ethicist and sportswriter Chuck Klosterman interviewed top NBA draft prospect Royce White* who has suffered chronic mental illness since childhood who is now in a stalemate with the Houston Rockets over contractual obligations addressing his mental illness, without even playing a single game, had this to say.

"At the end of the day, we don't associate mental health disorders with having severe health risks. And they do," he explains. "In that , they only touched on the addictive traits and the suicidal and homicidal behaviors [associated with mental illness]. But there are other elements that no one wants to talk about. Stress is one of the number-one killers of human beings. Stress hardens your arteries. And that's scary for a lot of humans, so they don't want to talk about it. It's like — what is the pollution in the air really doing to us? We'd rather just tiptoe around that idea and argue that it's the food that's killing us. But the reality is that stress is a killer of humans, and if we don't support mental health in the right way, the nature of the illness causes people to become overly stressed. And that's serious."

White's language here is intense and discursive. Though usually well delivered, his statements toggle between progressive common sense and difficult-to-decipher, contradictory aphorisms.

His argument, in essence, is that just being able to withstand something does not mean it's reasonable and healthy. He doesn't think that a person's mere ability to manage stress detracts from its corrosive nature. That's undeniably true. But here again, a conflict emerges from the specific lifestyle White is involved with: The demands of his chosen profession are utterly abnormal. 

And in for what its worth this is why its dangerous for all involved, the press, Greenberg, Barba, you, me, the fan, is that this is complex and hard to understand even as a explanation. If you had to explain Mental Health to a pre-schooler, even an adult, how would you say it? Stop already, My point, it's not easy, you can't easily do it.

Ben Barba comes from the swamplands, mangroves and heat of Rugby League heartland, North Queensland,  Mackay, where Rugby League isn’t just a game, its a place where the true great ones get the recipe, the recipe, that is passed from brother to brother to generation after generation on how to cook, the magical boom sauce, that excites us every Friday night an shakes us to amazement in front of our dumb big TV's. 

You want boom sauce? You want Ben Barba. 

Ben Barba comes from a proud family with many siblings, where athletic greatness isn't unique, or special, and once you recognise the bloodline, its a no brainer, a given. His father a local Union and League star in his own rite in his day, His Brothers, surpass any old time story of 'you shoulda see em' tale you could tell, the tales of a Barba are almost myth. His older brother Aaron, a schoolboy at the time, was so good, that taking lifelong career dreams of hardened veteran former pro's and Men of winning just one A grade Premiership, was no thing, oh, he scored every point in the Grand Final game too, over 30 points in a tight game.

Every point.

Or in 1998 as a schoolboy, half the town filled the Mackay Showground stands to watch him race a greyhound on a racetrack in a organised footrace, it only seemed fair for once, half the town also bet he'd beat it, he won. His other older Brother Rodney was so good, you wondered why he needed 12 other team-mates, put them, Aaron and Rodney together on the same team, limitless. Plus his many other gifted and sport star family members.

What's great here is, in his football, you’re all seeing the greatness that Ben Barba, and his family is, an you all deserve to see that, secondly, i don’t believe you haven’t even seen close to what Ben Barba can do with a rubber ball shaped like a fat egg. 

Not even close.

But what we need now, is time and understanding, even if you cant find it, its not about the football rite now. 

My Point with all this is, I don’t know, you don't know, we don’t know, we just don’t know. Mental Health appears so infantly intellectually complex and unappealing, its easier for us all to say, that's bullshit. 

When its not. And, I’m just not sure we all as a whole, are ready to swallow that pill yet.

Rugby League, is a tough game, played by tough guys, but for some, its just, its much much tougher after the referee blows the whistle, ending the game and you go boast to your friends about what you just saw Ben Barba do with a football.

Simon Dodson is the Online Content Manager for Radio News Talk 4BC.


Greg Cary talks with Michael Carr Greg about Mental Health.


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