There is an age old saying/comical story when it comes to Rugby League.
A woman is complaining to her husband; “You and that damn game! Every week, the same thing! You act like it’s a matter of life and death!”
“Don’t be stupid woman,” he replies. “It’s much more than that.”
While the joke can be applied to any sport, this week something made me think of it in a whole new light.
The Rugby League world learned of the early diagnosis of Alex McKinnon; being that he could be a quadriplegic. While there is still hope, this has shaken fans to their core. Every one of us loves this sport/have played this sport /knows someone who has. While you have a past legend in John Sattler saying that the game has “lost him” because the toughness and gladiator aspect has been removed, and officials and journalists crying foul over diminishing crowds and TV audiences, suddenly we have a 22 year old man only just out of a coma.
Michael Clarke offered his sympathies as a fellow athlete. Wayne Bennett, notorious for saying nothing to the media regardless of the situation, wrote a piece in the newspaper that brought a lump to the throat. These were two of many TV and radio personalities to speak up on the terribly sad situation, offering their best wishes to all involved, yet the fans of Newcastle and the game, for the most part could only watch and wait, silently. Hoping and or praying, if that’s their thing.
Until this week.
I had the privilege to play a small part in a rather unique and spontaneous act of kindness and generosity, inspired by a simple question on the Jubilee Avenue sub forum of League Unlimited; “What can we do?” and the hashtag slogan #RiseForAlex. Whether this would’ve happened had the quiet red head not debuted for the club we will never know, but the fact remains Alex Mckinnon was a Dragon before he was a Knight. The Dragons have a small yet strong legacy when it comes to signs and banners for their players; most are represented by them and they have been pointed out in Friday Night Football and the Sunday Roast. The comedy and the creativity are all in good fun and yet at a financial cost to the bearer.
So it was really no surprise when the idea was brought up to make a banner for Alex. This was agreed to immediately, yet there was a hesitancy against initial slogans such as “Forever in our hearts” etc. While his team mates had every right to shed tears in the on-field huddle before their mauling of the Sharks last week, the simple fact is, the man is not dead. And while there is hope, should he in fact be unable to move, this does not mean his life is over.
Once a slogan had been pitched and accepted, a tidy sum of money had been agreed in principal to be deposited into a bank account from several of us who frequent the forum. And then we were told someone had heard what we were planning and offered to design the banner with the chosen words at no cost. All we had to do was organise someone to pick it up. The banner was ready and picked up within 48 hours.
The next step was to get the message out there. Not what we had done, more so to the McKinnon family and Alex himself that even when nothing could help, strangers did something. The RLW Mole re tweeted, so did Greg Pritchard, Wendell Sailor, the SCG and the Dragons along with many fans. Finally, I personally tweeted the photo to the Knights, asking if it could somehow be forwarded to the McKinnon’s. I received a reply, saying yes it would be done and the support has been tremendous.
Rugby League fans are a curious bunch. We fight, we swear and argue. But we are all brought together by the game and the heroes that wear our colours. Doing what we wish we could do.
We carry them in our hearts, even if we can’t carry them in our arms.
While his struggles are far from over, it is the hope that perhaps this act of humanity can help him rise, even if fate denies him the ability to walk.
The game we love is more than life and death, and that my friends, is no joke.