The Sportsman Who Touched A Nation

Australia is a sad place to be today.

The whole country is in mourning. I kid you not.

Flags are flying at half-mast right across this tiny, little continent of ours. Sports people, both professional and amateur, plan to observe a minute’s silence tomorrow and wear black armbands as a sign of remembrance.

Talkback radio is full of callers openly weeping on air.

Now you might be gagging to know what would prompt such a public outpouring of grief?

Was it the death of someone famous or notable? Well that depends on your point of view.

Maybe it’s a celebrity or a well-known politician? Not even close.

Australia is mourning the death of a sportsman.

Of course there are many sports that involve risking life and limb, motor racing, speed boat racing, stunt flying to name a few.

But what this guy died doing wasn’t one of them or anything like it.

He died playing a game of cricket.

To anyone not familiar with the game of cricket, I won’t even try explaining it. Ok, maybe a little.

Think baseball.

Actually, it’s nothing like it.

Ok, sort of. Think of the game of cricket, as the bastard cousin of baseball twice removed.

Cricket, like baseball, has a batter. Actually there are two batters who alternate hitting the ball

But instead of a guy pitching a ball at the batter from a mound, the whole thing is played out on a closely mowed, flat strip of turf, 22 yards long.

The batter stands at one end, the pitcher or bowler at the other.

The bowler then kind of hurls the ball overarm, which lands about three quarters of the way down the pitch bounces up and the batter is supposed to hit it for a score.

There are 10 other players in the outfield, who are there to catch the ball so that they can to retire the batter.

As in baseball, the ball is pitched or bowled extremely quickly, travelling between 80 to 100 miles an hour, so like baseball you need fast reflexes to play the game at this level.

Ok. At this point I’m jumping ahead and assuming that you understand what I am saying. If you can’t, don’t worry. Understanding the game of cricket is not the focus here.

The name of the sportsman is Phillip Hughes and he died two days short of his 26th birthday.

He died doing what he really loved most in the world. I think it’s called living the dream.

He was an extremely talented, extremely humble country boy who loved his family and his mates.

And everyone he met loved him. He had the kind of attributes people admire, open and genuinely friendly, considerate and unselfish. He gave a lot of free time helping and encouraging young cricketers especially those who had the same dream as him to become a professional sportsman playing for Australia.

Phillip Hughes was also very unlucky. He was often a victim of the capriciousness of Australian cricket team selectors.

…..To put it bluntly, he was an in demand rooster one minute, a feather duster the next.

But he never gave up, never gave in. Always working to improve his game, improve his technique to give himself every chance to climb back to the top.

And that’s what he was doing when he died.

Things were going well for Phillip Hughes in a match at one of Australia’s premier sporting arenas, the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Then fate intervened as she does without warning. Phillip Hughes was wearing a helmet for protection. Unfortunately for him, on this occasion it was next to useless. A ball travelling around 85 miles an hour struck Hughes just below his left ear. It immediately compressed one of the main arteries that supply blood to the brain. The artery ruptured causing a massive bleed. Hughes collapsed, was rushed to hospital only a kilometer away. He underwent an immediate operation to relieve the pressure on his brain but died 48 hours later without every regaining consciousness.

Only 100 people in the world have died this way. And up until now no one has ever died this way playing the game of cricket.

His death has made just about every Australian incredibly sad. His passing was acknowledged by all of the major political parties in Federal Parliament. Even the Australian Prime Minister recorded a message of public condolence. A special, Government initiated, memorial service will be held for Phillip Hughes.

The intriguing question for me is why?

I don’t think it’s unfair, or churlish, to say Phillip Hughes achieved far greater fame in death than he ever enjoyed in life.

So why are we taking this so personally? Here’s my take on why?

Phillip Hughes represents the quintessential Aussie battler. The diminutive guy from humble origins, with the God given talent, forced to fight every step of the way for recognition. He gets knocked down. He gets up again. He dies a hero’s death at one of Australia’s most famous sporting arenas, having given it his all in the same way that thousands of Australians heroically died on the beaches of Gallipoli, during World War I. Not the same, I know, but you get the idea.

What I am saying here could be complete baloney.

But whatever the reason, there is no doubting or denying the grief and sadness, over the death of Phillip Hughes. It is real and palpable and has brought all of us together. And, not only in Australia but also in several other countries as well. Phillip Hughes managed to touch and reach out to a lot of people. It’s such a shame and a waste that he is not here to appreciate it.

How Can Police Justify Shooting A 12 Year Old Child?

I don’t want this to sound like I’m some kind of armchair critic of the police because they have a tough job to do at the best of times. But something happened in Cleveland that left me dumbfounded, shocked and appalled.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot dead by police.

He was a child but he was waving what looked like a black handgun. It turned out to be a BB gun.

Police weren’t to know that or were not prepared to take the risk.

They confronted him and now Tamir is dead.

Let’s just pause for a minute.

A lot of questions need to be asked here. How did this happen? How could it have happened? Why did it happen? How could it be allowed to happen?

Let’s firstly deal with the how and the why.

According to the police account of what happened: A caller tells police “a guy with a gun is pointing it at people” on the swing set at a children’s playground at a local recreation center. The caller says on two occasions that he thinks the gun is “probably fake,” but the person pointing it is scaring people.

Police dispatchers send a radio message to officers that there is “a male with a gun threatening people” outside the recreation center. Officers respond and see the boy pick up what they assume is a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Police Officers draw their weapons, telling him to raise his hands. Instead, he lifts his shirt and reaches for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. As he pulls out the gun, one of the officers shoots twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Tamir is taken to an emergency medical center but dies of his injuries. Police later determine the gun was actually a BB gun, with the orange safety cap removed.

Police later release a statement to further clarify what happened, which said: “Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun.

“Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.”

It added: “Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12-year-old suspect was in possession of is an ‘airsoft’ type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.”

Now if you break all of this down you get a pretty good idea on what went wrong here. For a start everyone involved gives a completely wrong description of who Tamir Rice really is.

He is not a “guy with a gun” or “a male with a gun threatening people” or a “suspect” and that is a big part of why this went so dreadfully pear shaped.

Tamir Rice is a 12-year-old boy.

He is a child.

Too young and immature to really know what he was doing or what kind of trouble he was causing. If all of those involved in this had simply remembered that simple point, right at the very beginning, the outcome might have been very different and Tamir Rice would be a little wiser but alive.

I know we live in a violent and unpredictable world but since when did it become the police first response to open fire and ask questions later because clearly that is what they did in this case. Asking a 12-year-old to put his hands in the air does not constitute a meaningful question in these circumstances, in my view.

And in any case whatever happened to the simple art of talking to people? Negotiating with them? Couldn’t they have talked to Tamir and found out what the problem was instead of drawing their weapons and responding with lethal force?

That’s what parents do. That’s what teachers do. That’s what any sane or sensible person would do. But it’s what Cleveland police didn’t do. And shame on them.

Cleveland Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “very very tragic.”

“We don’t come to work every day and want to use force on anybody,” he said. “That’s not what our job is. We’re part of this community.”

It’s a bit late now to be making those kinds of statements particularly when the circumstances point to the exact opposite being the case.

Deputy Chief Tomba said the boy did not threaten the officer verbally or physically. So I ask why was it necessary to shoot him?

Tamir’s father told reporters that he couldn’t understand why police had failed to use non-lethal force like a taser to subdue Tamir? I guess that is certain to be one of the questions asked at the Grand Jury investigation into this tragedy.

Tamir’s Dad said his son was “respectful” and “minded his elders.” He said he could not understand why Tamir would have ignored what police told him to do.

Which brings me back to the question why was this allowed to happen?

This might be part of the reason. One of the police officers involved in this incident was in his first year in the job. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a serious and rigorous review of police procedures in Cleveland.

The police department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team is investigating the shooting and has security camera footage from the recreation center. The officers, directly involved in the shooting, have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure for police.

The evidence will eventually be handed over to a grand jury, which will decide whether the officer was justified in using force.

I don’t need a Grand Jury to answer that question. Children are not adults capable of making rational decisions. It is stupid and wrong to think they can. Tamir Rice clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was relying on adults to make the kinds of rational decisions he was incapable of making. Unfortunately for him the adults let him down. There is simply no justification for lethal force to be used to kill a child under any circumstances.

And if I happen to be living in a world that says there is then quite frankly it’s one I don’t ever want to be a part of.

Is It Time To Ban The Sport Of Kings?

One of Australia’s most iconic sporting events was celebrated the other day. It was the running of the Melbourne Cup. This is a horse race, run over three miles, held on the first Tuesday in November each year that literally stops the nation. Although, calling this year’s race a celebration might be glib under the circumstances.

There was certainly nothing to celebrate after the race. The race favorite, a horse from Japan called Admire Rakti, ran last and later collapsed and died in his stall. Admire Rakti was a champion. He came to Melbourne for this year’s spring racing carnival winning the Caulfield Cup. But his trainers, vets and connections, as well as the Australian Jockey Club stewards, were not aware he was suffering from an extremely rare heart condition. The 3200 metre Melbourne Cup race was simply too much for him. Although I should point out he was observed to exhibit pre race signs that all was not well with him and it might have been better to scratch him. But even if that happened, would it have saved his life? The answer is probably not. I guess we can all look back with 20/20 hindsight after the event.

But we were still not done with race day tragedy. Another horse, Araldo placed seventh in the Cup, was returning to the stables, when he was spooked by a spectator waving a flag. Araldo lashed out and kicked a fence shattering his hind leg. He had to be destroyed on veterinary advice.

Of course this has caused understandable outrage. Two magnificent thoroughbred animals ending up dead after a horse race is not a good day for the sport of kings. Animal rights activists called for immediate changes in the racing industry to prevent what it described as “unnecessary deaths.”

A group calling itself the Coalition For The Protection Of Racehorses protested at the racecourse after the running of the Melbourne Cup and some of its supporters, video taped Admire Rakti’s collapse in his stall, which, in my view, was completely tasteless under the circumstances. But the position they took garnered massive support on social media with thousands of people taking to Twitter and Facebook, to express horror, outrage and sadness.

Here are some of the tweets that were posted: “ I heard next year the favorite will be “any horse to die”, probably paying $1.04.”

“What a debacle horse racing really is. I am horrified about the death and casualty of two horses. Hope it was worth it.”

“If only it was the nation that stopped the race.”

The Coalition For The Protection Of Racehorses paid for a huge billboard to be displayed in Melbourne with the slogan: Is the Party Worth It? Underneath the slogan there is a picture of a dead horse.

If this group was not taken seriously before they will be now. What they have to say will resonate over the coming days and weeks.

A coalition spokesman said he believed the death of the two Melbourne Cup horses would change people’s perspective on the treatment of racehorses. A total of 129 racehorses died on Australian racetracks between August last year and July this year. That equated to one racehorse every 2.9 days. The coalition has also called for a ban on two year old racing and jockeys being allowed to whip horses during the race.

There is no doubt the general public is starting to question the credibility of the racing industry when it comes to the health, welfare and safety of thoroughbred horses. Jumps racing is a classic case in point. Horses die during those races. The industry knows it but refuses to ban the practice.

Animal welfare group say they are planning to target races involving two-year- old horses. Racing them at such a young age when their muscles and joints have not been fully developed leads to problems down the track. More than half the horses that died last year were raced as two-year-olds.

But supporters of horse racing point to the fact that the racing industry in Australia is almost as old as the nation itself. It employs tens of thousands of people. Contributes more than a billion dollars to the Australian economy. In pure statistical terms there are 30 thousand thoroughbred horses in work. Twenty thousand horse races take place each year. So the death rate in a given year is about 0.4 percent or put another way, one racehorse dies every 160 races.

So are accidents and deaths part and parcel of the racing industry? Did Admire Rakti die because he was pushed beyond his physical limits? Or was it just a case of bad luck? I’m not sure I know the answer to any of those questions. The truth about whether the sport of kings is cruel, or not, probably lies somewhere in the middle. What I do know is my heart skips a beat every time I hear of a magnificent four legged elite athlete cut down in their prime.

Man Bites Crocodile

Man they breed them tough in Australia’s Northern Territory. Tough like the territory they live in. It’s an area known for cyclones, tropical temperatures and hazardous critters like crocodiles. I am talking heaps and heaps of crocodiles.

Usually it’s the fatal attacks that make the news. Sometimes Territorians, but usually out of towners full of mad sauce who go swimming in a creek or river, even though there are signs warning of the danger. Salt-water crocodiles are nature’s apex predators. They are opportunistic and will stalk their prey, watching and waiting for the right time to strike. Why you would want to take them on, or think you can, has always been a source of great consternation to me. They will eat a human being just as easily as they eat any other prey. I’d like to think we are the smarter species and don’t give them that chance. But plenty of people have proved me wrong over the years .

So, when you hear the tables were turned it makes you sit up and take notice. It happened when a 20-year-old man was hunting geese in wetlands near a remote community in the NT. What he didn’t know, lurking under the water was a two-meter saltwater crocodile. A man-eater hunting him. And knowing crocs as I do, he would have watched that young man for some time. Watching and waiting for his opportunity. It’s was not long before it presented itself.

The man waded into the water to recover a goose he had shot. Talk about wading out of his comfort zone and into the crocs. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Talk about dinner on a plate. This croc was spoiled for choice. Start with the appetizer or the main course? Choices, choices. So many choices. No surprise which one, out of the two sets of prey, that big, old croc decided to go for.

According to the local policeman, the crocodile launched at the young man grabbing him by the arm, trying to pull him under water. That’s how crocs kill their prey. They drown them. But what the croc didn’t count on, he was attacking a true Northern Territorian. Just think Crocodile Dundee only younger. The 20-year-old man fought back. He wrestled with the croc and was finally able to loosen its grasp. But the Territorian wasn’t done. He proceeded to poke the croc in the eye, which was the smart thing to do. The croc took off and the man returned to shore.

But like I said they breed them tough in the territory. He received first aid to stop the bleeding from fairly severe puncture wounds and driven on a Quad bike to the station homestead. He was then given what some might describe as real first aid in the form of an ice-cold can of beer. Come to think of it there might have been more than one can drunk by the man. When ambulance staff arrived he was ‘mildly intoxicated’. I mean, wouldn’t you be?

When they took a good look at him he had puncture wounds, tears and claw marks on his arm and back. The ambulance officers told the young man they would fly him to Darwin hospital for further treatment. But oh, no. Air ambulance flights are for sissies. He decided to make the journey of hundreds of kilometers by road.

He is now in hospital in a satisfactory condition. No doubt telling everyone about the one that got away. Meaning himself.