'In shock': Backlash over NRL great's mental health comments

Riley Morgan
·Sports Reporter
·5-min read
Manly forward Joel Thomson (pictured right) looking dejected and Ben Ikin (pictured left) speaking.
Manly forward Joel Thomson (pictured right) has slammed Ben Ikin (pictured left) for his comments on mental health issues in the game of Rugby League. (Images: Fox Sports/Getty Images)

The NRL community has expressed shock over former great-turned broadcaster Ben Ikin’s view that league players should step down and play park footy if their mental health is affected by the media attention that comes with being a high-profile athlete.

Mental health issues have once again been in the foreground of the NRL community this week after Broncos star Darius Boyd came out and said the constant scrutiny Latrell Mitchell receives from the media couldn’t be good for his frame of mind.

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In a seperate incident, earlier this week Rabbitohs star James Roberts checked himself back into a rehabilitation clinic for mental health reasons.

This prompted Ikin to write a column for Fox Sports where he acknowledged the ‘challenge’ that comes with being a high-profile NRL star, which can compound one’s mental health issues.

In an article that featured the headline ‘If NRL is bad for your mental health, there’s always park footy’, Ikin shared the view that the media attention comes hand-in-hand with the code’s fortunes in Australia.

He said if players loved the game, but didn’t want the scrutiny, they could step back and play park footy.

“At what point does the responsibility fall on the individual to say, this job might not be for me, I don’t like the pressure or scrutiny, it’s not good for my mental health, so I’ll find a job where those forces don’t exist,” he wrote for Fox Sports.

“Or conversely, choose to play rugby league minus all the fanfare, it’s called community football.”

He went on to claim professional sport isn’t for everyone.

“It’s not a right, it’s not a privilege, it’s just a job that can be very difficult, especially for those who have a chink in their mental or emotional armour,” he wrote.

Fox Sports commentator Ben Ikin speaking pre-game.
Fox Sports commentator Ben Ikin has received backlash for his comments surrounding mental health and the NRL. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Ben Ikin cops backlash over comments

However, the article appeared to anger multiple stars in the game that have dealt with their own challenges throughout their careers.

Indigenous All-Star and Manly forward Joel Thompson, who suffers from Bipolar disorder, addressed a letter to Ikin claiming his NRL platform has allowed him to also help others that are just as vulnerable.

He hoped anyone struggling could use his story as an example that they can aim big and play in the NRL.

“It has given me the greatest life,” he wrote.

“It’s also given me a real purpose to help our most vulnerable people. Should I have quit for park footy?

“Or embraced the support given to me in this position? [The] Healthiest and happiest I could ever be.

“I’m still in shock you’ve made this public.”

Cronulla Sharks star Josh Dugan labelled Ikin’s view as “brain dead” considering how far society has come with supporting mental health issues.

Punters and commentators also slammed Ikin’s comments on social media.

NRL stars support Mitchell, Roberts

The young Rabbitohs star has been in the spotlight for weeks after he was recently fined for breaching social-distancing protocols.

His return to for training was keenly watched, which also prompted Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds and coach Wayne Bennett to slam the media.

And South Sydney will persist with Mitchell at fullback when the NRL resumes with the star recruit to stay put despite the absence of Roberts.

Souths players maintained their support of Roberts on Wednesday after the NSW State of Origin centre checked himself into a rehabilitation facility for personal reasons.

James Roberts runs and passes the ball during a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL training session.
James Roberts passes during a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL training session. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Cook said the Rabbitohs were willing to give Roberts as long as required with many people struggling with a lack of routine and structure during the COVID-19 shutdown.

"I'm very proud of James on what he has done," Cook said.

"He realised the situation he was in and reached out for help.

"As a mate, I am not too worried about James Roberts the football player at the moment.

"He can take all the time he needs and once he comes back he will be welcome with open arms."

With AAP

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.