Just about everyone I know sent me a link to an advert for the new Super League season which started last weekend. It featured cycling god Bradley Wiggins claiming that he wishes he was a rugby league player but that the sport was too physically tough even for an endurance athlete like him.
It's what rugby league prides itself on – big, manly men making big, manly hits. Indeed, it's not just rugby league that does this – the announcer at last week's Town vs Gown boxing match took every opportunity to highlight the strength, fitness and most importantly courage of every boxer – telling the CURUFC boys ‘you can't talk your way into the boxing team'.
He was right, of course. It does take a lot of mental – never mind physical – toughness to stand alone in front of four hundred people and face an angry, tattooed hulk looking to cause you serious physical damage. The thing is, it can become increasingly difficult for other people to separate your sporting personality from your day-to-day one. Some of my companions, for instance, were surprised to see one ex-Blues heavyweight last Thursday who, under his Blue's blazer, wore the collar of an Anglican priest.
This is not necessarily a problem. The problem comes when you can't tell the difference yourself – which brings me back to rugby league. If your sport prides itself on being aggressive, on requiring extreme physical and mental strength, then the expectation is that these characteristics will be evident in your life off the pitch as well as on. Sometimes, however, that isn't the case (witness the boxing priest) and there are people who find that sort of pressure unbearable. Sometimes, as with former rugby league star Terry Newton, the pressure to be strong overpowers the need to seek help for depression – with tragic results.
The name of the game is state of mind – also the name taken by the mental health charity founded in the wake of Newton's suicide (and proudly supported by the university rugby league club). It's not just about state of mind on the pitch, but off it too, which requires something altogether different. Yes, it's vital to be tough when you're playing, but I think we all need to remember one thing – we're not always playing.
Chris McKeon is an African Studies student at Caius and a former Rugby League Half-Blue.