Sports-Men Behaving Badly

Sports-Men Behaving Badly with Amanda Smith - 16th June 2000
(Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation)


Do athletes learn bullying, anti-social behaviour though sport? And how might sportspeople manage the contradiction that's inherent in their lives - where the kind of aggressive behaviour that they're rewarded for on the field can get them into trouble off the field? This is the starting point for a study which sociologist MITCHELL DEAN is doing into reforming the behaviour of professional rugby league players.

Athlete manager and PR man MAX MARKSON is a master at turning negative publicity into positive publicity, and making money out of it. So what spin would he be putting on this week's allegations of sexual harassment against cricketer Shane Warne, if he were Warne's manager?

Plus, JOHN CLARKE, creator, writer and star of the TV series "The Games" - the second series of which begins on Monday night - talks about sport as a subject for satire, and making a farce of the Olympic Games.

Details or Transcript:


Amanda Smith: On The Sports Factor this week, spinning the image of sports-men who behave badly.

Also, do athletes learn bullying, anti-social behaviour through sport? And does sport perpetuate violence in our society? Or does it, rather, civilise violence? Those are some questions I'll be raising shortly with sociologist Mitchell Dean.

Plus, coming up, John Clarke, creator, writer and star of the TV show "The Games", on taking sport as a subject for satire. And a question I've long wanted to put to him:


Amanda Smith: Has anyone ever told you you look rather like Kevan Gosper?

John Clarke: Yes, it's funny you should say that. Mrs Gosper has often made that remark.


Amanda Smith: And more with John Clarke on making a farce of the Olympic Games, later in the program.

Well, the off-field behaviour of some of our high profile footballers and cricketers continues to attract newspaper headlines. It's a kind of ongoing theme about exposing the out-of-hours misdemeanours, or alleged misdemeanours, of those sportspeople whose actions we admire so much on the field. In his years as a manager of athletes and celebrities, Max Markson has had to massage the image of a few errant individuals, in addition to drumming up new ways of turning his athletes into household names. It's something that Max Markson learnt at a young age from his father, who ran "the Leon Markson Aquashow" in England, and who always said that "It's stunts wot make a good show".

Max Markson: I think to get attention for anybody or anything, you have to make them laugh, and make them sit up and notice you. And I think one of the big examples, when I look back at my career and some of the things I've done, I mean The Golden Girls Calendar, which we did with Jane Flemming, at that time it was a whole new things for athletes to show their bodies, as it were.

Amanda Smith: And look what you've started!

Max Markson: (laughs) Yes, now everybody takes their clothes off; any excuse for a calendar or book!

Amanda Smith: Well over the years you've managed and promoted a raft of sportspeople, from Dawn Fraser in her post-swimming career, as you mentioned, Jane Flemming and her Golden Girls Calendar, through to organising a new head of hair for cricketers Greg Matthews and for Graham Gooch. How though, and why, did you get into the personal management of athletes?

Max Markson: The first time I got involved was 1986, when one of our clients was sponsoring the then Mean Machine, Neil Brooks, Matthew Renshaw, Mark Stockwell and Greg Fasala and it's prior to the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. They won gold medals; I told them they've got to shave their heads, and so they brought the hair back and we auctioned the hair off for charity. And they asked me if I'd manage them, we were doing the PR for them, so I said, "Sure; and so there's four of you, one of me, we'll split it all 20% each." And so that's how I started taking 20% when I managed people. The first thing we do, we've got a TV commercial for them, white and brown bread ("I'm a white and brown fan, that's what I am") and they had to shave their heads again, which Brooksey didn't want to do at all. Said, "No, no, no, I'm growing my hair back". I said, "Look, for ten grand," (you know, because we're getting 50 grand for the commercials) I said, "shave your head". And all the other guys wanted to do it. And I even offered to shave my head; my wife didn't want to know about it. And that's how it came about. And then Greg Matthews approached me and asked me if I'd represent him. Once I was looking after Greg, I rang up Jeff Fenech who I was mates with, and said, "Do you want me to manage you?" he said, "Yes, sure." And he hung up. And then I was doing work for Reebok, and they recommended Wally Masur, the tennis player to come to me; I started looking after him, and I picked up Andrew Lloyd after the Commonwealth Games in 1990, then Jane Flemming, Duncan Armstrong, it's just grown.

Amanda Smith: Well aside from organising endorsements and appearances and publicity with the athletes you manage, how much do you need to get involved in their private lives and in managing dysfunctions in their private lives?

Max Markson: Look I think that's very important from just being part of their circle of friends and advisers to help them when their private life suddenly becomes public, you have to handle the public image of it, and it's not always bad. I mean sometimes someone's getting married or having a baby, and I obviously see a commercial avenue there and I'll try and sell the story to a magazine or to a TV show so at least they're earning some money from this, and also when there's something bad happens, you can always have an exclusive deal. I mean you talk about the current situation with Shane Warne for instance, something's happened in England, this woman sold her story to a newspaper, he said there's two sides to the story and he hasn't said a word yet. Now if I was managing him, which I'm not, but if I was, I'd be going and trying to get a quarter of a million dollars for him to do his side of the story and make him come out smelling like roses.

Amanda Smith: Well it seems to me that you've almost always been able to turn a bad news story about one of your athletes into an opportunity for publicity and/or moneymaking. For example a few years ago the cricketer Greg Matthews got caught up in rumours in the UK that he was having a fling with Sophie Rhys-Jones, at that time she was Prince Edward's new girlfriend. Tell us what you did with that.

Max Markson: Well he didn't have an affair with Sophie Rhys-Jones, had never even met her, and on the tour that it was supposed to have happened, he wasn't even in England. So I sold the story the other way: I said, "I didn't have an affair with Sophie Rhys-Jones", and we got $20,000 from Woman's Day for not doing the story.

Amanda Smith: Well you certainly had to media manage the odd swimmer and cricketer who has got themselves involved in things like bar-room brawls and so forth; how do you do the damage control? What are your priorities and strategies when, say, one of your sportspeople gets up to no good?

Max Markson: Talk to them first of all to find out what's actually happened; and if there's something which is negative, then obviously try and make them look good out of it, either you come out and do a straightforward apology, or you come out and defend yourself vigorously, or you lie low and don't say a word, go into hiding. But normally you come out and you handle the media, because if you don't come out and talk to the media, it just grows and grows, and the media keep hounding you and the story keeps running and running. If you can nip it in the bud straight away, the story goes away. And then you just get the athlete back on the field, doing what they do best. And I've just said about Shane Warne, but I mean all Shane's got to do is go back and take wickets, and we'll all forget about what's happened in the last week or two, we'll just be saying, "Gee, what a great cricketer he is".

Amanda Smith: Unless of course it comes out that those allegations are indeed true, surely?

Max Markson: It wouldn't matter.

Amanda Smith: Why not?

Max Markson: Because we forget about it. We've forgotten about the bribery scandal, we've forgotten about him walking out when the Madame Tussaud situation when they said he was too fat and all that. We forget about this. You know, he's Australia's greatest ever test wicket taker. That's all we care about. And as soon as somebody does something ... all the fuss over the Olympics at the moment; as soon as that opening ceremony and somebody lights the flame, and Cathy Freeman wins the 400 metres or Kieran Perkins wins the 1500 metres, or Suzie O'Neill, Ian Thorpe win medals, we'll forget about all the hassle we had with getting the tickets, we'll love it.

Amanda Smith: Is there a line over which you wouldn't walk though, Max? I'm wondering what your kind of, I guess, ethical boundaries are when it comes to spinning the image of someone you're representing.

Max Markson: Look, it's got to be within the law. I mean if someone's done a criminal action I don't really want to try and defend them, or be involved in terms of doing something illegal; I'd never do anything illegal. But as far as protecting my athletes, supporting my athletes and being there for them, yes, that's what a manager's about.

Amanda Smith: I was interested to find out recently that Gustavo Kuerten, the Brazilian tennis player who won the French Open Men's Singles title last weekend, he has a dedicated, permanent public relations person in his entourage, I think he's the only player on the circuit to have his own personal PR manager. Is that the way things are going, that athletes of that calibre these days need full-time image management?

Max Markson: But of course. If Pat Cash would have had that, he'd probably be worth a lot more money now, because think of some of the instances where he had bad media management, or where he lost his temper over something. If he would have had a PR person there, that wouldn't have happened. You've got to look at some of the superstar athletes, are superstars, and they're the same as the superstars of film. I mean Tom Cruise doesn't go anywhere without his personal publicist, it's just part of the game, it's where we're going. In this country, no, we haven't got athletes of that nature unless you look at, say, Greg Norman, or Pat Rafter perhaps. But I mean definitely, if you've got an athlete who is generating millions of dollars, and I'm talking five, ten, fifteen, twenty million dollars a year in endorsements, then you've got to protect; and they're doing them for companies that are worth billions of dollars. I mean, if I'm Nike and I'm giving Tiger Woods $50-million a year, hey, it's worth it to me to spend 50-grand a year having one person dedicated to looking after Tiger Woods full time PR-wise, just to handle the media, to make sure that he doesn't step out of line or do something wrong. Why wouldn't you? It's smart business.

Amanda Smith: If an athlete of yours, Max, gets involved in some sort of scandal or allegations of the nature of what's going on with Shane Warne at the moment, how much are you kind of meat-in-the-sandwich between the athlete, the media and also their sponsors, who want a clean image in their athlete?

Max Markson: I don't think it's meat-in-the-sandwich, you just fix it; if there's a problem, you fix it. You go and talk to the athlete, you talk to the sponsors, you talk to the media, and you make the whole exercise clean, if you like, or you give the answers. Now if you're a sponsor who's sponsoring an athlete who's continue getting into trouble, or continually controversial, then you'd be looking at your contract and saying, "Can I get out of this contract?" or you're saying, "Is that the sort of image we want?" and if it is, then you keep going with it. If you don't, then you pull the pin on the athlete. And I've had that happen to me before, with athletes. I mean, never for bad reasons, I've had it for injury but never for somebody who's done something wrong. A lot of the athletes I look after, I'm very fortunate, are very clean skinned. And I look after Michael Bevan the cricketer, Jane Flemming, track and field athlete, and now commentator, Hayley Lewis back in the Olympic team, all of them fantastic images, never had an iota of problems around them. It's not always every high profile athlete gets into trouble.

Amanda Smith: No, of course not. But often controversy is good in terms of image-making?

Max Markson: Depends on the product. If you're a Pepsi Max or Coca Cola and you want to have a bit of an edge, or street cred or mambo, then maybe you want to have a personality who's a bit on the edge. Or if you're a snack food, like a McDonald's or KFC, you probably want to have a really clean image, you don't want to go anywhere near controversy. You might be a product like a packet of crisps, and you want to have again, that sort of edge image, so sure, you might like to have a Leyton Hewitt who might be a little bit controversial.

Amanda Smith: And you, I imagine Max, would subscribe to Oscar Wilde's line about there being only one thing worse than people talking about you?

Max Markson: Yes, not talking about you, absolutely. And Groucho Marx, any publicity's good publicity, you know.

Amanda Smith: Max Markson, athlete and celebrity manager, PR and promotions man. And Max has a book coming out next month, about his life and times in this business, called "Show Me the Money", a most appropriate title for the bloke they call "Mr Twenty Percent".

Well, is sport a breeding ground for anti-social behaviour? Mitchell Dean is a sociologist who's embarking on a study into reforming the behaviour of professional Rugby League players. And a major issue, as he sees it, is the contradiction between the kind of behaviour that's expected of sportpeople on the field, and the behaviour that's expected of them off the field. As Mitchell Dean put it, on the football or cricket ground, players are required to be battle-soldiers, off it, they're supposed to be in the diplomatic corps.

Mitchell Dean: Yes, it seems to me that the modern professional sportsman has to develop two rather different sets of capacities, as you say. Firstly, aggression and fierce competitiveness within the framework of the rules on the field, not a slavish following of the rules, because you won't win if you slavishly follow the rules, but you need to stretch the rules to their limit, without being penalised. And there's that kind of aggression, fierce competition on the field. Off the field, the professional sportsmen, and sportswomen increasingly, are expected to be exemplary individuals, their public conduct is scrutinised, their statements are scrutinised, they're seen to me, in a sense, ambassadors for the game, or for their sponsors, there's an enormous amount of money, multinational capital invested in them, and so on. And it's that contradiction that I started from.

Amanda Smith: So how might individual sportspeople best understand and manage the contradictions that are inherent in their lives then, as athletes, as celebrities, and as citizens?

Mitchell Dean: I think that as with most social things, most things in society, that we're not necessarily born with the skills to cope with these situations. So it's very difficult for an individual to, you know, you have to be an extraordinary individual to cope with these rather different sets of demands upon you. And I think that in this period of transition of Australian sport, we haven't seen the sort of requisite development of an infrastructure that places the individual within a wider context. So the clubs, sporting administrators and so on, are trying to find ways of developing a structure, but I don't think it's quite there yet. So I suppose my overall sense, and this is really pre-judging my own research, is that we need to look at the professional and personal development, the life skills outside of sport, of the sportsmen. We need to look at systems of mentorship as well.

Amanda Smith: But what about the argument that men in particular, learn a bullying, aggressive kind of behaviour through sport, that then impacts on their behaviour beyond sport. I mean you could see the allegations of sexual harassment that have been made against Shane Warne in England as a potential example of this.

Mitchell Dean: Yes. I think that there is a sense in which you could say sport perpetuates a kind of aggressive behaviour off the field, but we all have to, in our social lives, we all have to engage in rather different roles: in the workplace, as a parent, and so on. And there are different capacities that are required. I don't think it's beyond human beings to be able to juggle those capacities under the right circumstances, and if you like, with the right training in life skills and so on. To me, that relates to, if you like, the broader question of whether sport is a civilising of aggression, masculine aggression, masculinity, or whether it perpetuates some of its worst forms.

Amanda Smith: And what do you think?

Mitchell Dean: I think that compared to, say, pre-modern societies, and the forms of sport that were associated with them, that we live in a very civilised, regulated society, in which most of us live fairly mundane, peaceful, but somewhat routine lives, and in which sport has become a professional activity that's restricted to a few specialists; it's played under certain conditions, so that aggression is being, if you like, regulated there.

Amanda Smith: And you believe that sport has actually played a part in enabling the development of liberal democracies, Mitchell? How so?

Mitchell Dean: Well I think if you compare the types of, say, football we have, to medieval folk forms of football, which were practised on a Shrove Tuesday or another festival day, involved unlimited players, some of which were on horseback, using all sorts of branches and so on to beat each other with, which were not played on a field, which involved the death of people, and bystanders, compare that to modern professional games of football, and you see that over the long term, you can't help but think that professional sports is a part of a kind of civilising process, and the majority of us are spectators. And we get our kicks, if you like, we get our quest for excitement, our desire to participate in risky behaviours in this kind of vicarious way.

Amanda Smith: And yet that kind of civilising aspect that you talk about with folk football, that has sort of fallen apart over the last ten years or so, you'd have to say around British soccer for example, with the hooliganism that surrounds the game, which in a way harks back to the earlier forms of folk football that did involve those large numbers of people out in the streets often behaving in a pretty aggro way.

Mitchell Dean: It does, and there's an old sort of idea about soccer, that because of the deferral of excitement on the field, that it's open to that type of football hooliganism. And I do think soccer has a particular kind of development, that it's obviously aristocratic in origin, in the sense that it requires a lot of self denial, that what you have with the restriction on the use of the hands, you have these very limited moments of ecstasy in an otherwise rather mundane and dull kind of game, which gives plenty of opportunities, particularly when it's connected to I suppose working class groups of spectators, for that semi-Fascist kind of behaviour on the terraces, and in the streets, which we see with the English football, almost professional football hooligans, aren't they?

Amanda Smith: Indeed. Mitchell Dean, who's head of the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University.

Now a professional hooligan of another, altogether more charming kind, is John Clarke, co-writer and co-star of the ABC-TV show "The Games". In its first series, this spoof on the organisation behind the Olympic Games, produced some memorable, farcical, yet strangely believable moments.


John Clarke: Now, Mr Wilson, have you measured the 100 metres track?

Mr Wilson: Yes, of course.

John Clarke: Well let me ask you: how long is it?

Mr Wilson: How long is the 100 metres track?

John Clarke: Yes.

Mr Wilson: It's a 100 metres track.

John Clarke: Yes, I know what it is, Mr Wilson, I'm asking you how long it is.

Mr Wilson: It's about 100 metres.

John Clarke: It's about 100 metres long?

Mr Wilson: Yes.

John Clarke: How long should it be, Mr Wilson?

Mr Wilson: That's about the length it should be.

John Clarke: Yes, about 100 metres long.

Mr Wilson: Look, what's the point?

John Clarke: The point, Mr Wilson, is that in 739 days we're going to have the Olympic 100 metres final on that track. This is an event that will be watched by about 600-million of the world's most dedicated, rugged individualists. You and I both know it's going to be run on a track that's not 100 metres long.


Amanda Smith: The second series of "The Games" begins on ABC-TV on Monday night. Now, it seems to me that the best sources for satire are subjects that take themselves utterly seriously. For that reason I think, John Clarke has been knocking the stuffing out of politicians for years. But are sports, and more particularly, the Olympic Games, ripe for satire for that same reason?

John Clarke: Well, yes, anything that takes itself seriously, you know, requires some naughty boys at the back of the class or whatever it is. I think that the more is at stake, and the more human stupidity and the greater the opportunity cost, in all sorts of terms, and so on, the more important it is that somebody does say something about it. Certainly I think sport is a pretty rich field. I mean I've always found sport very funny for example.

Amanda Smith: Why?

John Clarke: I think sport tells a story fairly quickly. If you go to a day of the footy, you get a kind of Icelandic saga in four hours, and a lot of life is a soap, you know, it just trickles on and on and on. So I think you get a beginning, a middle and an end, or you get an event you can relate or something or other, coupled with the fact that it has represented graphically, it has very high peaks and very low troughs, that's pretty dynamic, and it's this kind of Saudi Arabia of over-seriousness. I mean if you listen to the radio and watch television there are people talking about football games for example, as if they matter at all. Which is intrinsically ludicrous.

Amanda Smith: And that though, is carried to extreme degree with the Olympic Games, yes?

John Clarke: Yes it is. And it's also full of statistics, full of its own sort of terminology, full of unique injuries, and all these things which we take for granted, are all often pretty funny. I mean a couple of times I've actually tried to do something specifically about sport, and found it to be really a very rich field. I like sport, and I've always been involved in sport in one way or another, so these are things that I also do out of a kind of affection for all of this. But there's no denying that it's not the most important thing on the planet.

Amanda Smith: Well certainly, apart from your political satire, you were of course this country's chief exponent of the sport of fanarkling, weren't you?

John Clarke: Yes, well farnarkling's a very good example, where I was actually doing a television series on which I did something about sport each week, and that was OK in Australia when we were in the summer, but it got to be a problem when we were in the winter, because there was a different code in a lot of the different places to which the program went. So I decided to standardise it by the invention of a completely different sort of sport, no less bogus than any of the other ones, (have a look at the Colonial Stadium) but full of its own things, it's own terminology and its own kind of heroes, many unsung, and a hero has to be unsung to a certain extent, sung heroes are you know, Shane Warne and so on, you're in trouble there. So yes, and I really did enjoy doing it. And I grew up in New Zealand of course, where Rugby is a religious matter, and these people were regarded as being geniuses, people who frankly weren't geniuses, but were wearing the right clothing. It's all a bit silly.

Amanda Smith: Now of course the wickedly delicious thing about the first series of The Games was how prescient many of the story lines turned out to be. Did you expect to get that close to the bone?

John Clarke: Well let me say that the second series for example, Ross Stephenson and I are writing, very often we'll think of an idea which is funny or which has got a kind of reality to it, and we'll just extrapolate for a while the possibilities we think might exist there, and it's very noticeable that Ross, who's got a very strong legal background, he often sees a reality, a genuine reality, in the fantasy. He often sees that closeness you're talking about, and so it's terrific for me to work with him, because we got a bit lucky in the first series with a few things. For example, we wrote something about the length of the 100 metres track. Now that was obviously a kind of joke. But I remember Ross said at the time, "Things like this are bound to happen", and he listed about 20 possibilities just straight off the bat that weren't to do with the 100 metres tracks, but were examples of either miscalculations or things that don't fit other things. So everything's a metaphor for everything else, and he saw that very quickly, and he saw how that bolted on to reality. So as time went by, I increasingly thought that a lot of the metaphors that we were constructing were likely to be part of the grand folly. Because of course, the Olympics is so big that it can't be organised properly anyway, it's not humanly possible, I'm happy to say.

Amanda Smith: Do you think John, that The Games has contributed to the level of public cynicism around the real Games and the real games organisers?

John Clarke: Well to the extent that the program is about The Games, and it's not all about The Games since obviously part of it is about the media and world, more broadly. No, I would think that there's a good deal of scepticism about, and I think that a lot of people who like the program will like the real Olympics, for example; I'm not suggesting they're mutually exclusive, but that is simply to say that a lot of people who really like cricket are extremely disappointed about what's happening in cricket, and a lot of people who like football are extremely disappointed about the complete stupidity and poor decision making that they see happening in football. It's not as if these views are held by people who hate the game, or who are not in the audience, I think it's possibly only people who are in the audience who are frustrated, infuriated and disappointed by the expropriation of entire segments of the human experience by people who are doing it for the wrong reasons, or are not in the right job, or not doing it very well, or whatever they perceive those failures to be. So no, I don't think cynicism, I really think it's just the democracy of the population expressing itself in light conversational workouts.

Amanda Smith: Well this is a 13-week series, beginning this Monday night, which means the final episode will go to air just four days I think, before the actual opening ceremony. Does the series occur in real time, so that the final episode will be about the Sydney Olympic Games just about to start?

John Clarke: Well I don't know quite what the final episode will be about, since it's not written, and I'd point out that you're presupposing in there that the opening ceremony will happen on the date that it's currently listed to happen on. But the short answer to the sort of methodological question is that we're about a fortnight ahead, or ten days ahead of the on-air date, with making programs. So if an event happens, we have a capacity to respond to it; we have a slightly fail-safe position in the sense that we've got an episode kind of there, half ready for the next week anyway. It's a little bit hairy, there's not much margin for error.

Amanda Smith: It's a bit like sport.

John Clarke: Well yes, exactly. But we should have a capacity to respond to real events; we don't want it to be "Here's one we prepared earlier". So we don't know what the last program is going to contain. I mean there'll be enormous speculation by that stage about the opening ceremony and who's going to light the flame and other vital issues, but I don't know whether there might be some other kind of thing that will overtake that, who knows?

Amanda Smith: John Clarke, whose role as the Head of Administration and Logistics for "The Games", we can again relish when the new series starts on ABC-TV next Monday.

And that's The Sports Factor for another week. Michael Shirrefs produces The Sports Factor, and I'm Amanda Smith.


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Australian Broadcasting Corporation

ABC: The Sports Factor


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