In Australia, we have long expected our professional sportspeople to not only be model citizens (as if we all are), but ten foot tall and bulletproof.
God help them if they fail to live up to those expectations.
We all think that if we were “lucky enough” to have abilities that would pave the way to fame and fortune, we wouldn’t put a foot wrong, and we expect everyone to think, talk and act as we would – in our idealised versions of ourselves.
We also live in a society where people are looking for the next thing to be outraged by, rather than taking their instant information with a grain of salt. Hyperbole is the new normal.
The ongoing treatment of Nick Kyrgios – fined a further $25,000 ($A33,000) and banned for three weeks (reduced from eight after he accepted “professional advice”) for his lack of competition in Shanghai last week – is the perfect example.
When Kyrgios infamously ‘sledged’ Stan Wawrinka at last year’s Montreal Masters, you would have thought he had killed Bambi.
Forget that the fans in the stands nearby couldn’t hear the words Kyrgios muttered under his breath, let alone Wawrinka himself, forget that it was a statement of fact – this was bang out of order and warranted both censure and derision.
Give me a break! How hypocritical are we?
We lap up stories about the latest celebrity to be kicked to the kerb by his loving wife after sleeping with the nanny, but get up in arms when the delicate sensibilities of the gentlemanly game of tennis are offended by a few words.
When Australian Olympic team Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller gave Kyrgios a cheap “drive-by” during a chat with the media, he was justifiably aggrieved.
He had never met or even spoken to Chiller, Bernard Tomic’s poor behaviour had prompted the question, yet Nick copped a whack.
It was, to any reasonable person, a little unfair.
That opened the door for everyone else to pile on about how “we” don’t want him to represent Australia, and he was on a hiding to nothing.
How different things might have been had Chiller not fed the baying media hounds, Kyrgios had gone to Rio and won a medal.
A common refrain from the average sports fan is “don’t these guys know how lucky they are to be able to play sport and earn lots of money”. But that’s because we only see what we want to see.
There are downsides to everything. Being a professional athlete isn’t all beer and skittles.
I’m not condoning any of Kyrgios’ poor behaviour.
I’m not even trying to excuse it (although I do believe some of it is excusable).
I am defending him, as a person, because he is a good guy 99 per cent of the time.
He is popular with his fellow players and fans who have met him.
He stops to take photos, talks to little kids, signs autographs and is, overall, extremely personable.
You probably missed the saturation coverage (note: sarcasm) of him telling Tomas Berdych to challenge an incorrect fault call in Dubai back in February.
He is not a spoilt brat, let alone a flog, scumbag or any one of the many other charming things people call him on Twitter.
His poor behaviour invariably comes when he is under pressure and unable to cope.
Unlike Novak Djokovic and others, he doesn’t smash a racquet, tear his shirt, get a warning and move on.
He doesn’t bend – he breaks.
Kyrgios is a human being with feelings and frailties and the self-righteous sneering and judgmental tone from people whose everyday behaviour is probably far more questionable than his is unhelpful, uncaring and, in many cases, downright nasty.
Despite the aberrant behaviour, Kyrgios is maturing.
As revealed by Tennis Australia on Tuesday, he is seeking help.
Unfortunately, his mistakes are eyebrow-raising and there for all to see, right in the glare of the spotlight.
My fear is that his capacity to improve himself is being compromised by the relentless kicking.
My hope is that he will get enough love and support and will be even more determined to prove the naysayers wrong.
Murray Brust has covered elite sport around the world and is a former editor of the Australian Open website.