It is an exciting day when the sports news agenda weaves its way into the morning’s most talked about headlines and reaches even those readers with a self proclaimed lack of interest in sports and leisure. It is also, in my opinion, a sign of great journalism.
When Oliver Brown wrote this week, in an exclusive interview for The Telegraph, of Bath prop Duncan Bell’s long-standing battle with depression, he not only unearthed the overwhelming difficulties that the player had experienced off the field but in doing so he communicated with readers a very real, very concerning condition which continues to pass under the radar in the professional sporting environment; one which must be addressed if we are to stand any chance at enjoying the successful, lengthy careers of athletes at an elite level.
Brown’s interview was void of hyperbole and of any quest for those details which may well have shifted more newspapers but in doing so would have compromised what was, in the end, an honest and sincere insight into one of rugby’s most loved gentle giants.
The interview also touched upon Bell’s apprehension towards entering a world away from rugby union, the zone of comfort he had immersed himself within, since the age of 19. But his story bears great resemblance to that of Gareth Thomas who, since speaking out as the first openly homosexual rugby player in the elite game, has gone on to spread a message of positivity and reassurance to other players in a similar situation as he once found himself. Similarly Freddie Flintoff’s ‘Hidden Side of Sport’ attracted widespread critical acclaim for fearlessly tackling the issue of depression head on and for providing viewers with a first person insight into how even the most gregarious of figures from the sporting world can be weakened internally by this condition.
Like Thomas, Bell’s career on the field may be drawing to a close but his future in working closely with the media, with stakeholders and alongside other sports men and women, from grass roots level up to the elite platform, is very much beginning.
This was a good week for rugby union and for taking giant steps in conquering the demons that have long lingered somewhere between the dressing room and our television screens. It was also a great week for good, honest British journalism.
To view Oliver Brown’s interview with Duncan Bell for The Telegraph: