Forget AFL and cricket, Australia's next generation should be idolising its football stars
You can idolise a sporting star your entire life.
But then they make one fatal mistake, and it changes your perception of them almost immediately.
This feeling is probably what young fans of Australia's former cricket captain Tim Paine have experienced recently.
The sexting scandal involving Paine has swarmed the Australian sports landscape this past week, with the wicketkeeper stepping down from his leadership role after being found sending lewd text messages to a former colleague back in 2017.
News Corp released an insight into the scandal last week that revealed the series of sexually charged messages Paine sent to the woman in question.
The behaviour from Paine - who is married with children - was quite simply disgusting and speaks volumes of the outdated unacceptable behaviour that Cricket Australia still seems to condone.
Paine's wife has already forgiven him for the incident, but this issue, respectfully, concerns how our sporting role models should behave, not their marriages.
The fallout also revealed that Cricket Australia may have been aware of the messages sent four years ago but attempted to sweep them under the rug.
But what is ironic is that the ball-tampering scandal, or Sandpapergate scandal, took place just a few months later.
On that occasion, the three players involved were all suspended by Cricket Australia.
But Paine can stay in the team and only has to step down as captain when he acts like a complete pig online.
Paine was in tears as he announced he would step down as Australia's Test Cricket captain. (Chris Kidd)
The lack of consistency is crazy.
Cricket Australia must finally change the toxic culture within their organisation.
Otherwise more fake role models such as Paine will be produced and continue to let down excited young supporters.
Aspiring young AFL players are also consistently let down by their role models making stupid decisions that ruin their reputations.
Adelaide Crows forward Taylor Walker made a stupid decision with his remarks towards North Adelaide player Robbie Young in the SANFL back in July.
Although condemned by the public excessively, he will now always be viewed as a racist.
Perhaps this duo, Paine and Walker, will still be remembered as elite athletes within their respective fields.
But the world is changing, and with a society that is now more accepting of racial and sexual diversity, the next generation will look up to role models aligned with these values.
Most Australian cricket stars and AFL players are not aligned, but Australian footballers are.
I'm not saying that there isn't a Paine or Walker around in Australian football circles; there will always be people who are behind the times.
But that is the minority.
Football is the world game, and part of that means accepting all cultures, both locally and abroad.
For example, each year, Football SA hosts the African Nations Cup.
In this football tournament, African nations are represented by their respective South Australian communities.
The competition has helped those of African origin celebrate and integrate within the South Australian community.
It has also inspired young African-Australian footballers to chase their dreams.
You can also see how the A-League Men has reaped the rewards of footballers of African heritage being inspired.
Elvis Kamsoba, Alou Kuol, Pacifique Niyongabire, Ayom Majok, and more have pursued their football dreams and will now act as role models for the next generation of African-Australian footballers.
There are other brilliant examples of how the Australian game promotes cultural diversity; all explored in the fabulous documentary produced by Optus Sport in June.
But Australian football doesn't just help celebrate the diversity of culture.
Of late, it has also been a sport that accepts sexual diversity and promotes gender equality.
Joshua Cavallo's inspirational video where he came out as gay to the public sent the football world into a frenzy on social media.
Crucially though, all you could see was overwhelming support across the globe.
Gerard Pique, Jurgen Klopp, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a host of other big names in the sport were all fully supportive of Cavallo's announcement, as they should be.
But I can guarantee that the toxic cultures in codes such as AFL and cricket lead to athletes being ashamed of their sexual orientation or cultural backgrounds.
Football in Australia does its best not to marginalise anyone, though.
Cavallo is now instantly a role model for aspiring young homosexual footballers, both male and female.
Football was also the first code that genuinely took an interest in promoting their women's game.
The A-League Women stands as an essential pillar alongside the A-League Men in the rebranded A-Leagues setup.
The APL made sure the women's game was not left behind when they signed a new TV deal to broadcast the A-Leagues on Channel Ten and Paramount+.
Most importantly, they have secured hosting rights for the 2023 Women's World Cup.
The Matildas will feature on home soil and continue to inspire the next generation of female footballers.
The APL and FA's good intentions have been challenged by obstacles along the way, though.
There are persistent murmurs of sexual abuse allegations suffered by past and present Matildas stars, with an investigation to be launched.
Controversy also still surrounds the sacking of coach Alen Stajcic in 2019, where it is believed he created an environment unsuitable for female footballers.
No sport is perfect yet in this area, whilst Australian football is certainly a few steps ahead of its competing codes.
But if that is the case, why aren't these stories promoted more by the media?
Perhaps it is because football is not the most popular code, or these stories are not newsworthy for major networks.
Whatever the case, it is up to Australian football media outlets, such as this one, to continue to promote the backgrounds of Socceroos, Matildas, and A-League Men and Women footballers.
The Australian public needs to see that football is the most progressive code in Australia and has helped provide new role models of cultural, sexual and gender diversity.
The next generation will not want to look up to cricket and AFL stars behind the times; they will idolise Australia's future football stars who promote their values.