One would think that Australia’s most wealthy, internationally recognised and successful athletes be safe from the scorn of his countrymen. But like many Australians previously, Ben Simmons has recently felt the fiery depths of the Australian sports psyche. The tallest poppy must be swiftly felled with the sharpest and shiniest blade. Queue up to take your swing, and make sure you pound the fallen plant to a pulp. It seems that Australians will only like you if you behave exactly as they wish, down to the micromillimetre. A finger, a foot, a word out of line? Get lost.
Whilst my knowledge and credibility on the sport of basketball is more Lionel Hutz than Lebron James, I have kept half an eye on Simmons and the rest of the Aussies currently gracing the NBA. The recent treatment of Simmons has been astoundingly poor. Before I get into that, there must be a prescript in the interest of balance.
I do recognise, that the attitude and demeanour in America sports raise an eyebrow. Russel Westbrook is a bristly character on the court and exhibits an ice cold demeanour when interacting with the media. Kevin Durant’s Mother has had some fiery rants in the media and on social media regarding her son’s roster movements. A rumour circulated years ago, that Tom Brady’s supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen, actually marched into the patriots dressing room in dismay after a poor performance. She gave the team an almighty rinsing, something along the lines of her husband doing all the work.
Now, incidents like this absolutely warrant some criticism. They are as ego-maniacal as the sycophantic entourage that these players so often surround themselves with. As an American friend once told me, being a people manager is the most important aspect of a coach. It’s hard to tell young multimillionaires what to do.
But alas, whilst Ben Simmons carries himself with confident swagger, speaks with a curious hybrid American-Australian accent, and has dated one of the insufferable Kardashian mob, he falls well short of any buffoonery that may qualify him for such scrutiny.
Simmons first came under the microscope when opted out of playing for the boomers. How dare he, they cried. Australia’s star player chose not to risk a $242 million-dollar contract and get himself right for the much more reputable NBA season. He wasn’t alone either as many USA players found that a week long media scrum in Melbourne, answering the predictable reporter question of “How much do you love Australia, Steph?” is secondary to preparing for the real work in the NBA.
But many hated Simmons, leaving disdainful comments that they’d paid their money to see him play and he bailed. We forget that Simmons in the coming years would likely be knocking on the door for Dream Team selection, so the fact he even pledged his allegiance to be the face of Australian basketball means a lot to me.
Simmons was then hounded by the ultimate middle-aged, white-male boys club… AFL panel shows. He was laughed at and degraded by them for sporting 3 different guernseys over the course of his visit. Now let me spell this out clearly so those ex-players and old boys, undeservedly ushered into high profile positions to be low-level antagonists can understand. Simmons supports Essendon, that’s jersey number one. His dear friend Christian Petracca plays for Melbourne and presented him with a team jersey as a gift, that’s jersey number two. The Richmond football club invited him along for a kick at punt road, there’s jersey number three. Fairly simple. Yet, those over privileged, pompous panellists just couldn’t wait to call an uppity black man out. They’ve all been waiting for another shot since Goodes.
“I’m sick of this bloke. Pick a team and don’t forget where you come from” they cry as if Simmons needs to grovel at the feet of this nation in compensation for his childhood. This mobilised an entire group online who felt the same. I find it peculiar that people like this will die on the hill defending a player convicted of rape, sexual assault, drug possession and common assault yet all Simmons needed to do was receive a few jerseys from appreciative clubs and he is tossed to the gutter.
Simmons then committed the cardinal sin of any person of colour in this country. He brought up racism. He got denied entry from Crown Casino where he alleged in a brief Instagram video that his Caucasian friend was the only one who did not require identification at the door. Like the sun rising in the morning, the excuses came in like a tsunami about how it was everything but racial profiling. Many postscripts have arisen so it’s difficult to definitively say, but the backlash is as predictable as ever. The video Simmons posted was hardly fierce, and we often dismiss these incidents because we personally have never experienced it. One can imagine that Simmons may have reacted this way because it’s not the first time it has happened. We get a chance for discourse with a high profile Australian, which might set our future free from the ghosts of our pasts. But no, it was this spoilt brat playing the race card.
And as if this wasn’t enough, he was hounded and chased by Undergrads of Charles Sturt University in Bathurst who now carry an heir of self-importance as a reporter for a major news network, which their parents most likely got them. He was mocked for charging $200 dollars per person for a workshop with him, and not signing autographs or meeting with fans. I can’t imagine being so self-righteous that you’re angry about paying less than a flight to Perth to spend an hour with someone who is genuinely word class at your chosen interest. I’d pay thousands to sit down with Dave Chappelle for an hour, autographs or not. Simmons even gave away a free ticket to a struggling family and runs clinics for underprivileged kids regularly.
And so, Simmons returns to the States where he is told to stay by the likes of Alan Jones. The man we so proudly claimed as “Aussie Ben” on his way up now exiled because he is too big for his boots, or too resilient to be willing to be the butt of commercial radio jokes.
Australians will accept him back, but not before he shows unconditional gratitude and love for Australia no matter how bad we trash him.
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