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Wendell Sailor: Crossing The Line

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Books

Late last year (2012) I was just getting to grips with my latest project, a first person Wendell Front Cover 1biography of sports star Wendell Sailor.  I was chatting about our work with my partner, Sue Williams.  She was working on her biography of father Bob Maguire and we joked about how you haven’t really got through to your subject until you can make them cry.  We wished each other luck on that front, given that we were both dealing with very tough nuts.

The very next day, Wendell was sitting in my home, sobbing his heart out.  His wife, Tara, had read the first few chapters of the book (which I thought were pretty good anyway)  and had pulled Wendell up.  “I thought we agreed if you were going to do this, you were going to do this properly?” she’d said. “I though you were going to tell the whole story!”

And the next day I discovered why it had been so hard for Wendell to be honest about his past and why he had developed his happy-go-lucky, big boofy bloke shell.  As he told me about his mother having given him up when he was two days old to neighbours who were as poor as church mice.  He described how they never hesitated to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to allow him to pursue his dreams.  He sobbed as he told me how his beloved father – the man who took him in when his own mother didn’t want him – had died without Wendell having a chance to tell him how grateful he was.

It was then that I knew we had a book that was different from any standard sporting biography.  This was a story about struggle, sacrifice, stuff-ups and ultimately redemption.

I won’t tell you any more because I’d like you to read the book But here, to give you a little more of the flavour, here’s the publisher’s blurb.  And if you want to buy the book, click HERE.

A warts-and-all insight into a sporting hero’s very public fall from grace and his comeback to elite sport.

Superstar Brisbane Broncos and Kangaroos winger Wendell Sailor shocked everyone when he switched codes to play union in 2001. The King of the Wing, the huge explosive player whose thunderous runs intimidated anyone in his path, surprised even himself when he went on from the Queensland Reds to be selected for the Wallabies, becoming the first Australian player raised in league to represent his country in both codes.

But in 2006, all of this fell apart.

During a routine drug test for his new team, the Waratahs, he tested positive to cocaine and was banned from the game for two years. And those two years away would prove to the toughest challenge of his life. The self-confessed party boy who constantly sought the public spotlight was now forced to do some soul-searching, and most of it wasn’t pretty.

But in the way that only Sailor can, he fought back hard and worked through the shame. Pitting himself against his old ways, Sailor threw himself into charity work, mentoring young people in alcohol and drug awareness programs and, with the help of his family and old coach and mentor, Wayne Bennett, began his path to redemption.

When the ban was up, Sailor made a triumphant return to the code that had first discovered him at age 17, and the St George Illawarra Dragons had a new winger – a player ferociously determined to prove to Australia what he was capable of until his final game in 2010.

But this isn’t just Wendell Sailor’s story as the comeback king. Written with Jimmy Thomson, Dell reveals a dark secret that has haunted him since childhood and goes to the very core of his identity.  He tells us what it’s like to be a black man in a white man’s world and the toll racism takes on elite sport. He also shows us how good friends and mentorship are so important to our public national heroes. But he also demonstrates how crucial the bonds of family – and the love and trust of good people – are for anyone, hero or not.

About Wendell Sailor

Wendell Sailor exploded into the national rugby league competition at age 17 for the Brisbane Broncos under coach Wayne Bennett. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Broncos’ star winger, earning him household name status for his size, speed and try-scoring prowess, his reinvention of the traditional wing position and his party-boy antics off the field.

Just one year into his professional career he was selected to play for the national NRL team, the Kangaroos, and represented his country – and his state in Origin football – til he made the controversial decision to swap codes and play union for the Queensland Reds in 2001. In 2003 Sailor became the first Australian league-raised player to become a dual international, when he was selected for the Wallabies in the World Cup and went on to represent his country until 2006, also the year he switched clubs to play for the New South Wales Waratahs.

That year would prove to be a disaster for Sailor, who was banned for two years from representing the Waratahs and the Wallabies for returning a positive drug test for cocaine. Those two years out of sport – any sport –  saw Sailor hit rock bottom physically and emotionally before he pulled himself together and became heavily involved in charitable drug awareness programs and corporate speaking. In 2008 Wendell Front Cover 2another shock announcement saw him signed back to the NRL, this time the St George Illawarra Dragons. In 2009 he would be reunited with his old Broncos coach, Wayne Bennett, who joined him at the Dragons.

Sailor’s second coming in NRL saw his customary speed and strength on the field – in 2008 he was named in the Indigenous Australia squad for the Rugby World Cup, in 2009 he was influential in the Dragons’ Minor Premiership and was short-listed for the Dally M Winger of the Year award. Sailor announced his retirement from the Dragons at the end of the 2009 season and his final match was in 2010, for the Indigenous All Stars, during which he scored the opening try.

Sailor went on to a career in television both as a football commentator and as a participant in entertainment programs. He is a promising rugby league coach, an obsessive golfer and a tireless charity worker.


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