When is it on?
Jake Duke: The James Roberts I’ve come to know through years of friendship
By Jake Duke
Jake Duke is a reporter for Nine News and the host of the Refuse to Lose Podcast.
I met James Roberts when I was 10 years old and even at that young age two things were immediately obvious to me.
The first, this kid can play footy. The second, there is a lot more to him than meets the eye.
At the time James was living in foster care in a house packed with young indigenous boys on the Gold Coast.
We immediately struck up a friendship because of our love of rugby league as well as being the only two Aboriginal kids in our grade.
James’ family wasn’t something he spoke about and it’s something he’s only leaked sporadic details about over the years.
In fact, when I finally convinced him to sit down for the first episode of my podcast, I was hearing things about his childhood for the first time; 17 years after we met.
When you listen to his story you can understand why.
Due to issues with his parents, James moved around constantly as a child.
He went to over 10 different schools, residing in countless homes with not only relatives but complete strangers, exposing him to some horrific things.
“Seeing the things kids shouldn’t really see, you know with domestic violence and kind of stuff like that, it was just a sort of toxic environment for a kid,” James told me on the Refuse to Lose Podcast.
"I think it had a lot of an affect on me when I got to my teenage years, I had a lot of anger, a lot of hate in my heart. Just angry at the world.
"I didn’t really care what happened to me at that point in my life, I just had a ruthless mentality where I did stupid shit without thinking.
“I put on a big act like I was happy but I sort of didn’t know where I belonged.”
It was this mindset which led to the behavioural issues James has had over his professional football career.
People are quick to judge James. They read about his stuff ups in the media and the first thing they equate it to is alcohol.
He is painted as a person who can’t ‘handle the drink’ or acts out while under the influence.
Alcohol is not the problem; alcohol is a bi-product of the real issues; the depression and anxiety that comes from an upbringing like the one James had.
Those mental demons are battles he has fought for years and will continue to fight the rest of his life.
He addressed his mental health issues in the podcast as well.
“It’s gotten really bad. There were times where I didn’t want to live at some stage. There were a couple of times and the alcohol and all those other things didn’t help,” he said.
Unfortunately for James, those issues have flared up again during the COVID-19 isolation period.
When people ask me about James, I always use a tiger analogy.
James is an athletic beast but like tigers he doesn’t do well locked in a small cage.
On one hand, he shouldn’t be out in the wild running around madly because that’s when he gets into trouble.
On the other hand, being trapped and isolated in his own mind is very destructive.
He needs the outlets, the controlled team environment where he can train, play and be around mates.
It helps him keep the demons at bay.
That’s why this period has been very tough for him.
I received a lot of messages yesterday concerned about James and the news he was back in rehab.
I said the same thing to everyone.
I couldn’t be more pleased he’s back in rehab. It’s where he needs to be right now.
I’ve known James has been spiralling for a few months but the most difficult thing with these issues is getting people to help themselves.
I’m glad James has now come to that realisation and is getting the help he needs again.
Mental health has no off switch and he knows he’ll always be a work-in progress.
I received an update yesterday and he is already feeling clearer just a week into the program.
I have no doubt Jimmy the Jet will be taking off again soon.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with mental issues, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.
Find Jake Duke’s full chat with James Roberts for the Refuse to Lose Podcast here
Easy to hate on the bloke for his off field issues and not delivering for us but when you listen to this it reminds you that some people aren’t as fortunate as others. I’m sure Jimmy doesn’t want to go through the mental health struggles he faces, i’m sure he doesn’t want it to effect the club and his game and how often he takes the field, in saying so this is a good reminder that some people were dealt tougher hands than others and we probably shouldn’t bag a bloke for something that’s relatively out of his control.
If the rumours are true and he is departing i wish him well, hope he can stay mentally tough and the universe is kind enough to keep him physically fit so he can stay on the paddock wherever he ends up at.