In the past year or two, one could be forgiven for asking, (to paraphrase a gospel text), 'Can any good thing come out of Rugby League?'
Sex scandals and all kinds of violent acts, reported with such relish by the media, but then also the feeling that League officials have in fact covered up an awful lot: we have to wonder if this is not a really sick culture.
But now comes this wonderful story of a young man's redemption.
Last night was the annual award of the 'Dally M Medal' for the best and fairest player in the Australian Rugby League.
And it was won by a surprise winner, who out-scored the favourite, with a dash home in the last 6 weeks of the season. Something in the year itself inspired this young man but, more than that, he really is someone who has turned his life around.
Jarred Hayne is 21 years old and plays full back for the Parramatta Eels. He is a young man with a reputation for partying, which means a lot of drinking—but more than that, it's only a bit more than a year since he was involved in an incident in Sydney's King's Cross district in which he was 'dodging bullets'.
Last night, after winning the medal, Haynes referred to the things that had helped him make a complete change in his life. One was the realization, after a very significant football game, that he really wanted to do this, and do it well: and that meant he had to change. He described this as a moment of awe.
Another was the experience of playing in a competition in Fiji, where he met players who were not in it for the money, because they just don't get paid at all. And that caused him to think about what he was really wanting.
But then he noted that this had been possible only because of a large number of people who had believed in him, not given up on him, but helped him overcome old habits and form new ones. His mother noted that other people, including herself, had supported him but he really had done this for himself: he had to make this change.
And he has! This is a wonderful story of redemption.
It is a story of a person who came to believe better of himself, and has worked hard to be and do that.
It's also a story of other people, who believed in him and have supported him on his way.
And it is a challenge to us, readers and supporters, who may wonder whether redemption is possible: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?, asked Nathanael, (John 1. 46). People think that way about the town where I grew up, too: Moe, in the LaTrobe Valley. It has such a history of crime and social problems, and few people would give people of there much credit, of any form.
But it is indeed possible for people to grow and change. It's interesting that so much contemporary Australian literature is about the quest for redemption. Is it possible, for individuals and communities, for a nation which has so abused its indigenous peoples, or denied the appalling treatment of 'forgotten children', or recently has locked up asylum seekers, to find healing, for them, and for ourselves? Is redemption possible, even in Rugby League? Yes it is. I say, 'Thank the Lord.'