Elite athletes need to set a better example

A sociology expert says our elite athletes need to set a better example for the next generation.

Dr David Mayeda, Sociology Lecturer at the University of Auckland, believes with so much of New Zealand's identity wrapped up in what he calls a "collision sport" players need to be taught where to draw the line.

"We have violent sports in society, the difficult part is when athletes who are wrapped up in that violent mentality, when they don't know how to problem solve outside the sporting context," he told ONE News.

Recent events have seen men at the highest sporting level behaving badly on and off the field, with the latest high profile example being in the State of Origin earlier this week when NSW skipper Paul Gallen belted Queensland second-rower Nate Myles with a series of punches.

Mayeda says both players and coaches need to understand the roles they play in society and the influence they have. He said they become role models whether they want to be or not.

"The players the coaches, those who have the highest levels of power need to understand they have greater responsibility as role models," he said.

Mayeda's comments come after a 15-year-old Kelston Boys' High student died after being punched after a rugby training session.

In 2009 Kelston Boys High hit the headlines after a full-scale brawl with the rival Auckland Grammar First XV.

But the school also has a record of grooming top sportsmen including Sevens captain DJ Forbes, who believes any rough and tumble should stay on the paddock.

"We go out on the fields to showcase, to show that it's a form of physical sport, but it's purely that," he said.

"Everything's left there on the field and everyone comes off happy as harry."

However, Mayeda said "we have to understand and recognise that sport is given a disproportionate amount of attention in society".

"Given this type of attention, there's going to be a glamorised notion behind sport," he said.

"In New Zealand, rugby is obviously a sport which is really highlighted as a form of national pride, it's almost sacred."

'We make certain forms of violence acceptable'

Mayeda said at its core, rugby is a violent sport.

"It's not just a contact sport, it's a collision sport, so there is violence built into that."

"In society, we make certain forms of violence acceptable, they are sanctioned, and they are legal," he said.

Mayeda said for athletes of certain sport, violence is "a core aspect of their identity."

"Because that legal, sanctioned and often times glorified violence is so important to them, sometimes the boundaries get blurred."

He said often it happens in split second situations.

"When does the acceptable sporting violence stop and the unacceptable violence begin?"

"And it's glorified, often fights are glorified by the media, and that's something that the public and people in power including coaches and captain will say 'we had to defend our team, defend our manhood'.

"That's bad role-modelling for society in general, when even elite players cannot distinguish where the acceptable and unacceptable forms of violence exist."