Today, I am writing about Aussie Rules Football. I know nothing about Aussie Rules/Footy/AFL, so let’s get my status as a complete and utter non-expert out of the way to begin.
I have actually been asked to write about this by a football tragic who we will, for purposes of this post, call Footy Tragic.
Footy Tragic loves football. Footy Tragic has an encyclopaedic mind when it comes to the history of AFL and if you ask her anything about the team she follows (Collingwood…spit) she knows everything. Every.Thing.
Footy Tragic also knows a lot about diabetes and when the two worlds collided, she was not impressed. We discussed what we could do to try to fix it – because together, we think we can solve many, if not all, the problems of the world – and while I can’t promise to actually make it all better, I can write about it.
At various times, there have been AFL players with diabetes. Dale Weightman played for Richmond when I was a kid and he is still regarded as a role model for children with diabetes. (He is also a very nice bloke who was a frequent guest speaker at events I coordinated in my previous role.)
Today, there are a couple of fairly high profile (so I am told) players including Jack Fitzpatrick (who plays for Hawthorn) and Paddy McCartin (St Kilda) who was the 2014 number 1 draft pick. (I don’t actually know what a draft pick is and I can only assume number 1 is good, so well done, Paddy!)
Anyway, Paddy has been having a good run with the senior St Kilda side this year, which is brilliant. What is not so brilliant is how the reporters and match callers are dealing with the player with diabetes, which is, of course, a terrific story to tell.
To begin with, the commentators tried to give an explanation of diabetes by informing listeners that ‘There are many kinds of diabetes, but Paddy has the ‘full on’ one.’ They were also pleased to announce that while Paddy had trouble with his diabetes last year, one of the doctors at the St Kilda Football Club has ‘worked out’ his diabetes and Paddy is ‘good to go now’. His sugar levels are ‘all fine’!
With what I can only imagine were their super serious voices, the commentators shared that Paddy is brave – as are all people with diabetes – because they (we!!) have blood taken ALL the time and Paddy has blood taken on the boundary line.
During Saturday’s match, Paddy went off the ground after being hit on the head, but the commentators made sure to clarify that it could have been because of ‘diabetes issues’.
So, here is the thing. It really is brilliant when we have elite sportspeople absolutely kicking ass (and footballs) in their chosen sport. It is fabulous for them and it is great for others living with diabetes to see people achieving and excelling.
It’s also great because it gives balance to the lousy way many people with diabetes are portrayed in the media.
But would it be all that difficult for there to be a tiny bit of research done somewhere to accurately speak about diabetes in the context of this (and other) elite sportspeople?
Let’s be clear.
Paddy has type 1 diabetes, which is no more or less full on than any other type of diabetes. All diabetes is full on. All diabetes is serious. All diabetes sucks.
Paddy has not had his diabetes ‘sorted by his doctor’. Although if he has, and his doctor is hiding some magic ‘diabetes sorting pill’ (or hat! Diabetes sorting hat!! – Harry Potter Digression) he better bloody share it around. What Paddy is doing is working incredibly hard – undoubtedly with his healthcare team – to make sure that he can get out on the field and…do whatever they do on the field.
If Paddy gets a knock to the head on the field and there is blood oozing out of his forehead and he is acting a little woozy, it’s probably a concussion – not ‘diabetes issues’. Because, sometimes IT’S NOT DIABETES!
Paddy is not having blood taken on boundary. He is pricking his finger to check his glucose. I am not minimising this – I know it sucks – but let’s be truthful about what it is.
I am not expecting AFL commentators to know everything about diabetes, but I do expect them to not make things worse, or add to the considerable confusion of what diabetes is all about.
Paddy McCartin is an absolute legend – as is anyone with diabetes excelling in whatever they do. He is showing that diabetes is not stopping him and I honestly can’t even imagine what it takes for him to manage his diabetes while playing football at such an elite level.
I just wish that we could celebrate what he is doing with the right messaging, and work towards dispelling some of the myriad diabetes myths.