Many of the boys we teach are stuck in a space between proving themselves and being themselves.
How can they be themselves when society mostly holds up role models who are valued for how many tackles they make or how many girls they attract?
What happens if they can’t prove themselves? Where does their self-esteem go to hide or explode? When we praise the captain of the rugby team for his on-field artistry, do we equally praise the boy who created a work of art? Do we let the rugby player also be an artist?
Imagine the pressure to be “the man” when your dad is one of the best rugby league players the world has seen, and your brother is an AFL legend. What happens when your family relationships revolve around sport, so you aim to be a professional footballer but you discover after a lot of destructive binge drinking that you’d prefer to write songs or write books?
This is the life of Brandon Jack. His new book, 28 – A Memoir of Football, Addiction, Art, Masculinity and Love is a brutally honest and real depiction of someone who almost made it as a senior Sydney Swans footballer.
He did end up playing 28 senior games for the Swans (hence the title, which is not his age – he’s only 27) but he was never a regular in the senior squad. Brandon's older brother, Kieren, played 256 games for the Swans while his father, Garry, played 244 games for the Balmain Tigers and 22 for Australia. The family home, a museum to sporting glory, was the backdrop to Brandon’s upbringing. No pressure at all.
This is not the usual sporting autobiography by a retired champion who (usually with a ghost writer) produces a magnum opus the size of a phone book with his (never hers) surname in huge gold letters down the spine.
This is a story about how it feels when you are not selected, and your dreams and reality start to unravel. It’s about drinking to fit in and feigning injury to get out.
Boys from about Year 10 and up should read this book to understand that there is more to being a young man than getting selected and winning games of footy.
As Brandon says when he appears as a guest speaker at schools, “there are many ways to be a man”, and he proves it.
He lays his heart and his hopes on the table and lets you into the messy mind of a young man. He shares diary entries that reveal a worrying intensity and very intimate moments as he learns to be himself.
It is unlike any sporting biography I have read. It is not only for men, nor only for football or sports fans (although Sydney Swans supporters will love a peek inside the inner sanctum). I could not recommend 28 more highly, especially in a year when many victims of toxic masculinity have been brave enough to stand up and speak up.
If you would like Brandon to speak at your school about gender roles and what it really means to be a man, you can email him: firstname.lastname@example.org