’Eyes shocked open’: Fittler’s bid to give teens a future
Rugby league legend Brad Fittler is on a personal crusade to stop gang crime by dragging teenagers off the streets and into sport.
Horrified by the recent stabbing of players at a junior rugby league match, Fittler has teamed with NSW police to use team sport and physical activity to end teen crime.
The NSW Origin coach says he's had his "eyes shocked open" by evidence of the link between violent video games, screen time and social media to violent behaviour of young people.
"It's frightening. There's kids turning up to junior league games with weapons in their bags," Fittler said.
"There are a lot of kids out of their depth, they don't know what they're getting involved in and hopefully we can find another way for them to vent their energy.
"I want to give them a bit of strength to fight off a bit of peer pressure.
"The kids are becoming numb to what is real. The kids are playing games that have them literally stabbing and bashing people on the corners of streets.''
A meeting with Strike Force Raptor - the NSW Police crime fighting unit - has led Fittler to call for government support towards his plan to reinvigorate every PCYC (Police and Community Youth Club) in the state.
His aim will be to create sport, art and music hubs for wayward teenagers.
Fittler's mission has the support of NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
The NSW State of Origin coach's motivation to "save lives and help our kids where teachers and parents can't" was initiated out of concern and a desire to understand why a 19-year-old allegedly attacked three men after playing in an under-20s match between Penrith Brothers and Wentworthville Magpies at North Parramatta last month.
The meeting with the major crime unit last week revealed to Fittler that the alleged stabbing was far from an isolated incident and that something had to be done.
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"I met with the Raptors and what they did was give us a good idea on why and how we're at this point,'' Fittler said.
"I spoke to Mick (Fuller) and we agree the kids are needing to do something and so we need to put more energy into these safe havens (PCYC's).
"They're (PCYC) everywhere and it's something the government needs to really focus on and make these a real haven for kids to be able to go and catch-up with other kids and be active and find themselves.
"It can be through rugby league, boxing, art, rapping or music. We need to encourage these kids to push themselves in the things they're passionate about.
"Because at the moment, outside the occasional skate park or unless you're willing to go to a park and drink, there isn't that much for a kid. I find it hard to blame the kids. The kids need help.
"Most kids are stuck inside because most parents won't let them out through fear and then when the kids are allowed out, they're a little bit reckless and they're the ones that decide it's okay to be carrying weapons.
"You see billions of dollars put into other things, but we need to put serious money into setting these havens up so people are safe to go there.
"Instead of putting billions into organisations at the end of the line, put it at the start of the line and maybe we can change lives before it gets to the point of violence and suicide.''
Fuller has been a vocal advocate for supporting PCYC's with mentoring programs - such as RISEUP - in the past.
But he said the support of Fittler to shine a light on the value of PCYC's was invaluable.
"We need more mentors like Brad in this space,'' Fuller said.
"We know through PCYC that we can change the lives of kids long-term, but it does take enormous energy.
"It's not just about money, it's about decent people who give their time up to help these kids long-term.
"The programs at the moment are broad, but it is about getting kids, helping kids with education and helping kids at home.
"Most importantly, we help them get a job and that's part of the long-term diversion of kids away from a life of crime.
Strike Force Raptor provided Fittler with data to explain how gang crime and youth violence were linked to explicit music, video games and social media platforms.
The champion footballer was frightened by the lack of care from the government to censor kids from being exposed to screen-time violence.
"When someone gets stabbed (in real life), it's not even a concern to them (teenagers), because they're doing it every afternoon (on a video game).
"There's prostitution in them also....where's the government in this?
"Government really needs to step in with censorship. I don't know how these games are getting through.
"They're not helping parents. There's just not enough resistance at all. Teachers and parents have got no hope.
"I know myself as a parent of two teenagers, we talk openly about their amount of screen time, but I'm also mindful of allowing them to also make their own decisions.
"But the links to violence from social media are frightening and rugby league and other sports are being brought into it.
"Sport gets back-handed with it because kids are turning up to games anxious and from there it escalates.
"What used to be a little fight, now escalates into knives and wrenches in their backpacks.
"The kids need help.
"We need to give them another path and by reinvigorating PCYC's - we can do that.''
Originally published as 'Eyes shocked open': Fittler's mission to give teens a future