Marcus Bontempelli wants to make a difference beyond football

Marcus Bontempelli has grown up surrounded by women, all of whom have influenced him in ways he believes have made him a stronger and more sensitive person. Photo: Simon O’DwyerFollow the Age Sport on Twitter

Marcus Bontempelli still lives at home and won’t be too far away when he moves out at the end of the season. The 19-year-old and his older sister Alanna are planning to rent together close to their parents’ house, and he wouldn’t be surprised if his other two sisters follow soon.

“If my mum and dad had their way, all us kids would move out together. So it could be the start, who knows,” he said. “For now it’s just the two of us and I think it will be pretty good. My sisters all have different lives and different careers. They make sure I don’t get too caught up in the footy zone.”

Bontempelli has grown up surrounded by women, all of whom have influenced him in ways he believes have made him a stronger and more sensitive person. His mum is one of four girls, and he still sees a lot of his grandmother. His favourite childhood memories feature his sisters, and he likes the way he, Alanna, Olivia and Sienna choose to spend some of their spare time together now, be it going out for breakfast or fighting as they always have over the remote control.

Then there is his mother, Geraldine, one of the first few people he turns to when things go right or wrong. “Being the only boy hasn’t necessarily made our relationship stronger, but we certainly have a different one to the girls,” he said. “She’s always been my shoulder to lean on, whether it was to do with footy or anything else going on in my life.”

For Bontempelli, it was impossible not to think of all those people while sitting through some of the respect and responsibility sessions run by the AFL and the players’ association during his debut season and again this year. Hearing all the statistics about domestic violence and the number of women affected by it was difficult; applying them to his own life was tougher again.

The teenager has had lots to get his head around as a second-year player: a new coach, a new game plan and coping with an intense new level of opposition attention as well as his own ambition. He wanted to go from here to here – and then stay there – as soon as he possibly could. As quickly as he has moved, it sometimes hasn’t felt fast enough.

“It’s been challenging, in a few ways. I think it’s healthy to set goals, but they’re not always easy to reach and I’ve probably had a bit of that this year, not being able to achieve as much as I wanted as quickly as I wanted. It’s something I’ve come to terms with a bit more recently, that it can be a slower kind of burn rather than getting to a high level really quickly then just holding it,” he said.

“I wanted to play every game I could this year, spend more time through the midfield and develop the ability to cope on the inside better. I think I’ve done that, so that’s been good so far, and the other thing is that as you get older you’re held to another level of standards with the other things you’re expected to do for your teammates when you come into the club every day.

“I’ve needed to find my voice and be strong enough to speak up about things I see that are being done right and wrong. That’s an area I’m still growing in, being able to give feedback. I feel like I’m getting more used to it.”

Bontempelli has felt settled enough to start thinking about how he wanted to spend his time away from the club, too. Talking through his options with his manager earlier this year, he thought about all those statistics and wondered if there was some sort of anti-violence cause he could show some active support for. Coincidentally he was approached not long after through the AFLPA to become an ambassador for The Line, a national violence prevention campaign that aims to help young people understand what healthy and respectful relationships look like.

It will be launched this week and it feels like a perfect fit. “Some of the things you see in the news about women being hurt by people who should be the closest to them can be hard to think about. We had a session the other day with the AFLPA and one of the most striking things they said was that one in three women will experience some sort of violence in their life,” said Bontempelli.

“Luckily that’s not something I’ve come across so far, but when you hear those numbers you start to think. To me it means something could happen to one of my sisters or that one of them might get exposed to something like that at some stage in their lives, and that hits home pretty hard.

“Some of it’s tough to think about and I’m not sure how I can help, but as footy players we’re in a position to reflect upon what we think is important and lead by example with the messages we send.

“I’m still growing as a person, but this will give me the chance to speak to some people younger than me, when they’re still forming attitudes about their relationships. It’s a good point to start at, and hopefully I can help out in some way, round up some support and get enough people involved to go a long way and effect some real change to something that’s just so important.”

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