Monday, 17 September 2012

Taking Risks and Tragedy.

John McCarthy was an Australian football player who played his junior football with Sorrento football club and then went on to play elite football. He was drafted in 2007 by one of Australia’s premier clubs, Collingwood and a year ago was traded to play with Port Adelaide.

At the end of 2012, Port Adelaide was knocked out of the competition before any final playoffs and he and some of his teammates headed to the USA and Vegas. McCarthy was, with his fellow teammates, considered to be a more mature player, having played at the professional level for a number of years and unlike many of his younger teammates was trusted to self manage himself in a mature and professional manner.

John McCarthy jumped from a Vegas balcony at 5.40 am and tried to jump into the branches of a palm tree. He couldn’t hold on and he fell nine meters to the concrete below and suffered fatal injuries.

John McCarthy was a role model to many. He was an outstanding athlete. He was clearly an extraordinary young man who was loved and socially connected, supported, loved and returned those feelings to many. The passing of a young man can not effect so many people on such a deep level without that person being an extraordinary person.

But McCarthy’s passing has been more than a tragedy in Australia. It’s been an extraordinary exercise by media to avoid any mention of the reason for his death – youthful, drunken stupidity.

The reason perhaps, is because no-one wants to devalue his passing, knowing how well he was thought of and how many people truly loved and cared about this man.

I’ve always felt young people have every right, in fact a duty to be young and stupid, short of risking death. And even that comes with exceptions. It’s certainly fine to risk even death in organized activities that take every precaution to keep participants safe. High thrill, high danger activities are always going to be a risk to be part of but provided you take every precaution while doing them, no-one should ever deny these high risk, high discipline, high talent activities.

Being young is about having fun and taking risks, but as is the case with McCarthy, even the young have a duty of care to themselves if only because of the many people who love and care about them.

This is the Youtube generation. A generation who is taught that infamy is just as profitable and just as respected as traditional fame. Jumping from a balcony to a palm tree nine meters up could well have been the next viral video we would all be watching.

Jackass, Tosh.O, Funniest Home videos, Youtube and the many other media platforms that promote risky behaviour make young people feel even more bullet proof than usual. Seeing so many others perform death defying stunts and walk away with little more than a bruise, or at worst a screaming wedgy, seeds the idea for the next person to take that leap one step further, or higher.  

I’m not for becoming a nanny state that tells our young people what they can and can’t do. I don’t even think we should be banning the shows that bring the starring idiots fame. Let young people be young and continue to do all the crazy things that we all do in youth. Being an idiot and taking risks is part of the coming of age and provided you pull up short of death – job well done.

But when someone’s Youtube heroics go too far and their foolishly planned stunt goes wrong and ends in death we shouldn’t bury that result and hide it from just as much exposure. John McCarthy’s death has effected and hurt so many people who are left to try and make sense of the senseless loss of life, that it becomes vitally important the media make it clear how and why he died. Just as the heroic Youtube leaps that end in triumph promote such stunts, this sort of tragedy should be promoted just as heavily to try and prevent it.

John McCarthy’s palm tree leap is mentioned almost as a whisper if at all and even then it’s mentioned as if it is in some way an ordinary accident that McCarthy suffered as a fateful event he had no part in. He jumped from a balcony nine meters in the air and tried to land on a palm tree and then, I guess, planned to shimmy down the trunk like a super hero. It was doubly stupid because, unlike the many nameless stars on the internet who are out to prove themselves, John McCarthy was already a super hero amongst the regular folk who idolize their football players. 

The media has a responsibility not to shy away from reporting the foolish decision that led to his death, as hard and as disrespectful to a dynamic, respected and much loved young man that it may be. What he did was stupid and sometimes, just sometimes, those types of decisions end in tragedy and a deep hurt and sense of loss is then carried by far too many people.

Maybe out of respect to such a loved and accomplished young man the media is keeping this commentary back for a week or two to allow those who loved McCarthy to grieve without any suggesting his memory is being disrespected or sullied. Perhaps then the media will remind other young people that acting the fool can and does, on occasion, end in tragic and very final consequences.

My guess is in a week or two the incident will have stopped being news.

Maybe the next young person who loses their life, spurred on by the crazy internet stunts of their generation’s survivors, will not be as well loved and respected as McCarthy and then we may have some honest media analysis of what sort of behavior should be discouraged. While it often leads to no more than laughter and a memorable video, it can also lead to death – and in McCarthy's case, a death that has needlessly upset and shattered far too many people and robbed us all of a young man who was obviously one of the good guys. 

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