In the Wallabies’ semi-final match against Argentina, David Pocock played over 70 minutes with a broken nose. Although Adam Ashley-Cooper would walk away as man-of-the-match thanks to a hat-trick of tries, most commentators agree Pocock’s heroics had as much impact on the result as anything else.

Pocock played all 80 minutes, made 13 tackles, ran the ball eight times, broke two tackles and made four turnovers. Despite only playing four games in the World Cup, he leads the tournament for turnovers with 14.

Fox Sports News described him as “the world’s best player” whilst the Sydney Morning Herald labelled him “The single most important player to take the field come Sunday morning”.

None of this should come as much surprise – as a back rower, Pocock’s success is derived as much by will power, courage, and perseverance as it is by skill. And Pocock has it in spades. He explains:

My parents were always clear with my brothers and I when we were growing up that you have to have the courage of your convictions and that when you commit to something you must fully commit.

That quote didn’t come from a post-match interview but from one of Pocock’s blog posts following his arrest in December 2014. Unlike some other footballers, Pocock’s arrest wasn’t a boozy 3am affair. A spokesperson for the environment and public supporter of Julia Gillard’s Carbon Tax, he was arrested for a nonviolent protest against Whitehaven’s coal mine at Maules Creek.

Pocock spent around 10 hours chained to a farmer who was, in turn, chained to one of Whitehaven’s superdiggers.

This wasn’t much of a surprise to those following Pocock’s career. He has been outspoken on a range of issues for several years. He and his partner, Emma Palandri, refuse to marry until LGBTQI couples in Australia can do the same. Although describing themselves as married the pair have not signed the legal documents to verify their marriage in the eyes of the state. “‘I don’t see the logic in excluding people from making loving commitments to each other”, Pocock explains.

It’s not the only time Pocock has stood up for LGBTQI rights. In a match against the NSW Waratahs earlier this year he reported NSW lock Jacques Potgieter for repeatedly using a homophobic slur. Amidst some criticism (and praise) Pocock refused to yield – even as some speculated it would cost him the Wallabies captaincy.

Pocock has repeatedly put his head on the block for the causes he believes in.

Pocock’s on-field success cannot be readily distinguished from his off-field activism. In a sentiment widely attributed to Aristotle (but actually a summary of his views), “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Courage – or fortitude as Thomas Aquinas called it – is the virtue that enables you to do what you believe to be right despite the difficulties involved. No matter the cost. Not a surprising trait in a man who fellow Wallaby Michael Hooper says “puts his head in some places that are pretty dangerous and gets the ball out”.

After Maules Creek the Australian Rugby Union issued Pocock with a formal warning. They wrote, “While we appreciate David has personal views on a range of matters, we’ve made it clear that we expect his priority to be ensuring he can fulfil his role as a high-performance athlete”.

It’s a tough ask for someone like Pocock to separate his politics from his rugby. Pocock’s on-field success cannot be readily distinguished from his off-field activism.  In a sentiment widely attributed to Aristotle (but actually a summary of his views), “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Pocock’s courage under fire, his perseverance and his commitment are habits. What makes him a high-performance athlete isn’t just his physical frame but his mental discipline and personal virtue.

We can’t switch virtues on and off when they suit us – we either have them or we don’t. When Pocock gets up to make a crucial tackle or to reach the breakdown a fraction earlier than his rivals to steal the ball he demonstrates the same commitment that saw him support LGBTQI rights, defend the environment, speak about his eating disorder or discuss his faith publicly.

Pocock could no more remain silent off the field than he could hold back on it. His character disposes him to holding fast to what he believes is good. Doing otherwise would dull one of his crucial sporting instincts. It would also dull part of what makes him an upstanding human being.

You can’t praise Pocock’s on-field achievements whilst also condemning his off-field activism. They’re children of the same beast – his unwavering commitment.

Though there are no doubt those who disagree with Pocock’s views, you can’t praise his on-field achievements whilst also condemning his off-field activism. They’re children of the same beast – his unwavering commitment.

There is ongoing debate regarding whether or not professional athletes should serve as role models. The ability to play sport well doesn’t translate into the moral virtues required in a role model. As Charles Barkley famously remarked, “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” If Pocock’s prominence both on and off the field are born of the same character traits, then his example allows us to see the role model debate in a new light.

Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once remarked, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather, a lack of will”. Had he not died 18 years before David Pocock was born, you’d swear Lombardi was talking about him.

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