The Bubble Boys Book

Over the past decade, there’s been a significant change in the relationship dynamic between our sporting heroes and the ticket paying public. Once revered, our elite athletes now carry the dual burdens of high expectation and public skepticism, the indifference fuelled by the perception of inflated salaries and less than perfect behavior.

Bubble Boys Front Cover Open the newspaper (or more likely, log on) enough days in a row, and you’re pretty well guaranteed to stumble across one of our sporting elite, engaged in some alcohol fuelled act of stupidity. If it’s not an alcohol related incident, it’s a sex scandal, or a drug scandal, or a betting scandal. And the anti-social behavior is made all the more offensive and newsworthy by the apparent repetition.

But where does the truth lie? Are the undesirable (at times illegal) actions of a very small minority simply tarnishing the reputation and standing of the vast majority? On the whole – who are our elite athletes? Arrogant, overindulged, over paid brats, living the dream, or hard working, gifted professionals, worthy of our respect, and the very good money they earn, albeit for a defined period?

The purpose of Bubble Boys is to better understand the “lot” of the professional sportsman. To take an in depth look into the trappings, the pressures, the responsibilities and of course the scrutiny – the fact from the first bounce or bowl of the ball, the first drive or first serve, our sportsman hand over their lives and virtually become public property.

It examines in detail the relationships they share with their many and varied stakeholders, starting with the paying public, but extending through to the administrators, the media, the corporate community, their peers (including the former greats), but most critically, their inner circle – the people they rely upon for direction and advice.

Just how hard is it to have that many masters?

To find out, I have canvassed a wide range of Australia’s highest sporting achievers (some just starting out, some recently retired, others approaching retirement). We learn of their experiences, and in the case of those who have “hung up boots” – the confronting transition into life after sport, when the cheering stops, the accolades cease, and they have to start a fresh – often at the very bottom.

Bubble Boys also explores the views and contributions of those on the periphery – the coaches, the career welfare managers, the player agents, the player associations, the corporate supporters, the media commentators, and of course their increasingly visible, increasingly voluble wives and girlfriends.

Finally, there is a section devoted to solutions – the skills, techniques and strategies that can help today’s professional athletes survive and thrive in this glare of the public spotlight, to build a “brand” likely to win the hearts and minds of the sporting public. Along the way, we defer to the “good guys” of Australian sport – those who have excelled at the highest level for an extended period without any compromise to their accessibility, approachability or humility.

As the title Bubble Boys suggests, this book is about blokes. The fact that I have deliberately focused on sportsmen should not in any way be construed as undermining the significance of women’s sport in this country.

The simple fact is most of the sport’s big pay packets, most of the scrutiny, most of the scorn, most of the adulation, and practically all the anti-social social stems from elite level males. Just like it does in the rest of the world.

The girls, whether they are wired differently, mature earlier, or simply don’t have the opportunity to play up – who knows. Maybe they do, and we don’t care enough to find out about it.

There is no perfect time to be writing a book of this nature. The world of sport is a movable feast. There’s every chance the day after publication, another athlete will gain unwarranted notoriety, come tumbling to earth with a deafening thud. If it’s not the day after, it will be the week after, or the month after.

It is not in the charter of Bubble Boys to name and shame, There are countless anecdotes where specific detail has been deliberately removed, or descriptions left broad, so as to protect the identity of the central figures. In a few instances, I have not even been told the identity of the “subject matter”, nor asked the question. Readers will be probably wonder who they are, some will hazard a guess, others may even go to the trouble of trying to work it out.

But in the overall context of the book, it’s not the “who” that is important – it’s the what and the why – the reason and rationale behind the behavior.

Readers will draw their own conclusions, but hopefully, by the time the final page has been turned, there will be some new perspective.

And the realization that like life itself, nothing is ever quite as good or quite as bad as it seems.

Michael Blucher
November 2013