'Rugby league saved my life': Badger bows out with message of hope
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'Rugby league saved my life': Badger bows out with message of hope

Gavin Badger was watching a movie with wife and fellow referee Kasey about a decade ago, when one of the scenes was disturbingly familiar.

"Something was happening in the movie and it was similar to what happened to me," Badger recalled. "I just walked out of the room.

"She was like 'What's wrong?'

"I had to tell her something, so I started to talk about it. Once I started talking, I couldn't shut up."

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That was the moment that prompted Badger, who will be officiating in the NRL for the final time in the Panthers-Bulldogs clash on Saturday, to speak for the first time about a burden he had been carrying from the age of 11.

That Badger is a survivor of child sex abuse.

When 'The Badge' looks back on a career that has spanned 18 seasons, 354 games as a referee and a further 57 as a touch judge, he is most proud of the fact he found the courage to find his voice.

"The last few years of my career have been the worst for me professionally but the best for me personally," he said.

"I've been able to grow so much by being able to tell my story."

Badger describes his story as a "horrific" one. Sexually abused at the age of 11, it sparked a series of events that led to drug taking and "ruined virtually all of my childhood".

"No kid should ever feel home is not a safe place," he said. "It sent me to the streets a bit, I'd try to spend as little time at home as possible.

Gavin Badger says his proudest moment in rugby league has been sharing his story.

Gavin Badger says his proudest moment in rugby league has been sharing his story.Credit:NRL Photos

"It sent me down a pretty ordinary path for my teenage years. I started smoking pot around that time, 11 or 12 years of age, which is insane. I couldn't imagine an 11- or 12-year-old even getting pot let alone [using it].

"At around 15 or 16 I started trying other stuff. That happened because one person decided to do something horrendous to me.

"They got me to open the cupboard door and there was a gun in it.

"It could have been a BB gun for all I know, but there was a rifle in the cupboard and that was for me if I told anyone.

"It's pretty horrendous. Crazy."

NRL referee Gavin Badger has not been offered a contract for 2021.

NRL referee Gavin Badger has not been offered a contract for 2021.Credit:NRL Photos

Badger survived to tell his story in the hope it will encourage others to do likewise. To bring attention to the fact that the vast majority of victims are sexually abused by someone they know.

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The 47-year-old credits becoming a father and rugby league for helping him to get his life back on track.

"I've got no doubt I'd be in jail or dead if it wasn't for rugby league," said Badger, who wasn't offered a new NRL refereeing contract for next season. "Rugby league, and refereeing rugby league in particular, saved my life.

"It has made my life as well. Everything I have, all the good things in my life apart from the kids and grandson, is generally footy related. I'm indebted to rugby league for the rest of my life."

Badger first shared his story publicly in January to raise awareness of the need for child protection and to help support fellow survivors. The veteran official has a tattoo of the famous photo of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston on his calf as a reminder of what he has overcome.

"To me it's not about boxing, it's not about Muhammad Ali, it's more about standing over your demons," he said.

"It showed me strength and winning. Off the back of me telling my story, it just felt right.

"That is the proudest moment of my career, speaking up, knowing there was a lot of positive feedback from that."

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