This article was first published for NRL.com.
As we draw closer to September, there is one thing that most rugby league fans have on their minds – will my team be playing finals football? For most fans and clubs, finals football is the culmination of a year of hard work and so often playing finals is used as a measure of success for a team’s season.
As a Parramatta fan, I’m certainly guilty of thinking about September. It’s been so long since September has been something my team has been a part of (since 2009 to be precise) and, with Parramatta still more than mathematically capable of making the eight, I’m starting to get excited.
At least once a day I log onto NRL.com and push the numbers into the ladder predictor. Each day I enter a new combination and watch the outcome change, just to try to tick every box, test every outcome and make myself believe that I have some final control over an outcome that I really don’t have any control over at all.
But sometimes things happen off the field that remind us that there are things more important than football going on. I was reminded of this last Sunday when the Parramatta Eels and the Wests Tigers played each other for the inaugural ‘Stay Kind’ Cup in support of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation.
The concept of ‘Stay Kind’ started with the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation earlier this year with a simple yet powerful message: be kind to one another. Be a person that embodies respect and kindness and do your part to create a supportive environment in our communities.
Thomas Kelly was killed back in 2012, the victim of a one-punch attack, while his brother Stuart died last year from suicide.
It’s almost unfathomable to me that one family unit could go through such unthinkable tragedy. I do not have children, but it knots my stomach to think about how this family has had to go through losing two of its own, and losing them much too soon.
To think that a family unit could go through such trauma and still be using their voices to advocate for change in our communities is extremely powerful for me.
But youth suicide is certainly a cause that could use more advocates.
Youth suicide rates in Australia are at a 10-year high for people aged 15-24. Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 15-44 in this country. While female suicide rates are still lower than men’s, suicide rates for females have doubled over the last year.
Something needs to change.
The 30,901 fans that walked through the doors of ANZ Stadium last Sunday all did their small part to support the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation and help to make a difference. 50 per cent of donations on the day went directly to Lifeline.
For me, there is nothing more incredible than when a group of people come together, bonded through little more than their love of a game, to show support for other members of the community.
‘Stay kind’ is such a simple – yet powerful – message. It’s one that we should be reminded of more frequently.
So often staying kind does not cost us any money. So often it costs little more than time. But while being kind might take more time, it goes a long way in making our world a gentler, more compassionate and more joyous place. Sometimes we all need a very simple reminder that in the end it is our relationships with people that we remember the most. Choose kindness and joy for yourselves and make a conscious choice to share that with the rest of the world.
I also want you to remember that while most of us tune in every weekend to watch our footy teams play rugby league, that our sport is about so much more than just sport.
Rugby league has a tremendous capacity to drive change in our communities and to spread important social messages. Our game reaches millions of people every single week and with that comes immense power to make a difference.
Congratulations to both the Parramatta Eels and the Wests Tigers for recognising this immense power and using it to combine forces to get behind a cause like the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation. Congratulations also to Brydens Laywers who were compassionate enough to give up their space on the front of the Wests Tigers jersey to promote the ‘Stay Kind’ message.
While I might have highlighted the work that these two clubs did last weekend in this story it should in no way undermine or make you forget about the fabulous work that so many of our clubs and players are doing to make positive change in our communities; initiatives like Souths Cares launched by the South Sydney Rabbitohs, or programs like ‘State of Mind’, ‘School to Work’ and ‘In Kind In Harmony’ which the NRL are fierce champions of.
Never forget the important work that our sport does in our communities – you should all be immensely proud of our game and take every opportunity to spruik these messages to the rest of your community.
Now that I’ve reminded you all to take into account the bigger picture, I hope you’ll excuse me and let me get back to that finals predictor.
Enjoy the footy this weekend and remember to be kind not just to yourselves, but also to the people around you.