With footy back, a familiar, religious fervour is again sweeping suburbia. Despite fans worshiping the gospel on a cosy couch at home, with the pews of the revered church eerily empty and silent, prayers for a divine destiny of a premiership resonate with the same intense excitement and pleasure of previous years.
As holy heroes, players still revel in feted favour for preaching a beloved scripture about a ball, fostering an amazing array of miraculous feats.
Traditionally, the faith endowed in footballers has poised them on pedestals of physical prowess and athletic acumen, privileged role models to emulate for their perfectionism both on and off the field.
As an incorrigible football addict for many decades, I swooned over their sporting astonishments, attracted by their agility and contented lives, embodying both physical and psychological inspiration for a devout, blind faith.
Over recent years, this faith in them as extraordinary immortals has been sadly undermined, perhaps even misplaced. As narratives of drug addiction, excessive alcoholic indulgence, anxiety, depression and marital infidelities pervade the media, they are sullied as spiritually unenviable, contrary to my naive and ignorant delusions.
Reports have revealed many have been, and still are, bedevilled by demons deviously concealed in their own private torment. Uncovering their secrecy with refreshing candour, honesty and truth, these players have been fortuitously responsible for now positioning mental health as a top priority for the AFL. Clubs employ full-time psychologists, with psychiatrists a part of the AFL’s duty of care.
More significantly, these developments have dramatically changed the perception of role-models from deified, omnipotent superstars to ordinary human beings; mere mortals with similar emotional vulnerabilities and imperfections as most.
Their misdemeanours have created a greater sense of understanding about the pressures, expectations and demands on elite sportspeople, with their experience applicable to others across the social spectrum. Striving relentlessly for success, people often sacrifice more profound inner needs, however unconscious, exacting an unexpected toll on their wellbeing.
Facing their own foibles, failures and frailties, these footballers have engendered a different kind of faith with more purpose and commitment to the nature of simply being human, more reassuring than a myriad of material manifestations.
Supporters like myself usually applaud their achievements on the field as supernatural, but it is humbling to learn about their mistakes as well as the avenues they pursue to overcome adversity.
Rewriting a religious ritual on role-models with a more realistic humanity, these players have affirmed a more endearing faith for fans at the altar of Aussie Rules.