#Youtoo NRL

I grew up in Western Sydney where Rugby League was all that mattered. The mighty eels ruled the roost and Sunday afternoons were spent in front of the television in a blue and yellow guernsey. Nothing on this earth was more exciting than watching Brett Kenny’s long mullet locks streaking towards a line of white chalk.

I’m a fanatical spectator. I have a ‘team’ in every competition, (Go Thunder/Magpies/Swans/Tahs/Kings etc!) and could easily – happily even – spend a weekend glued to the television watching my favourites do their thing, and if they weren’t available, I would surf every digital and cable channel known to man to find someone to barrack for. No footy this weekend? Winter Olympics time – let’s watch the curling! Netball team has a bye? No problem. Lucie Safarova is in the final of an obscure sounding tennis tournament somewhere in the world. I will watch anything.

If you’re not a sports fan, stay with me, because this isn’t actually an article about sport. It’s about people. Sports people. More specifically, it’s about how we treat them and what we let them get away with.

Sometime after the Sydney Olympics I lost my taste for one sport in particular. Even with the mighty eels winning the minor premiership and making the grand final in 2009, I just couldn’t get myself behind the team. They had been tainted by the sport I once relished.  Salary cap scandals were bad enough, and there was a constant conversation about chicken wing tackles, shoulder charges and grappling. What used to look to me like a hero showing a bit of mongrel suddenly looked more like thuggery. And the code basked in it. The Footy show created stunts so lowest common denominator that people literally got hurt. Commentators prided themselves in an inability to speak with adequate grammar to pass primary school. They decried the rights of players to flaunt the rules and be violent on filed because ‘origin.’

And then there was the off field antics that really turned my stomach. Two group rape scandals come immediately to mind. Several domestic violence incidents were clumsily swept under the carpet. Drug taking was excused time and time again. I’ve compiled a list at the bottom of this page, just for what I can remember over the last 15 years or so – off the top of my head. No research at all.

Instead of turning PR disaster after PR disaster into impetus for real change, the NRL has repetitively, systematically and blatantly ignored, swept aside or simply laughed off bad behaviour. Nowhere has ‘boys will be boys’ been more egregiously used than in Channel 9 commentary boxes during the Winter months of Australian Sport. It is beyond locker room talk – it is abuse, assault, sexual misconduct and worse. And it’s still very much alive.

In 2009 I had my son. Over the better part of a decade my interest in League had soured. I could no longer watch it without feeling angry. Moreover, I thought to myself, I don’t want *him* watching it. I don’t want him seeing violent, angry men off the field celebrated as heroes on it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the victim of the Cronulla Sharks sex scandal and how I would feel if I was her mother. Worse, each new scandal perpetuated an increasing degree of victim blaming and whataboutism. What was she doing going up to his room if she didn’t want to be raped by nine of his team mates? Wasn’t she drinking? I bet I know the sort. Probably wanted her 5 minutes of fame. Thinks she has a meal ticket. Anything but what really happened. Well, here’s what did really happen:

2009, 2014

Greg Bird Domestic Violence, Urinating on a Police Car https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/greg-bird-sorry-for-dumb-act-that-put-a-dampener-on-his-wedding-20141208-122rii.html

2017

Semi Radradra Domestic Violence http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-13/nrl-semi-radradras-ex-girlfriend-punched-in-face-court-heears/8265246

2013

Reni Matua Assault http://www.canberratimes.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/reni-maitua-suspended-by-bulldogs-after-being-charged-with-assault-20131126-2y7fa.html

2007, 2008, 2009

Wes Naqama Domestic Violence, Assault, Driving Under the Influence, Driving Without a License https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/knights-naiqama-facing-sack/news-story/ba461db9eb4396db4a894dfaf97098af?sv=fd6514f46a599b6308f34f696e420c50&nk=c7bc453fbbe1fa9818e11e75cac5bf30-1522393643

2002

Matthew Johns and the Cronulla Sharks Sexual Assault http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-05-07/matthew-johns-in-group-sex-scandal/1675926

From 1999

Andrew Johns Illicit drug use http://www.news.com.au/news/nrls-greatest-on-drugs-for-years/news-story/02f0782c937f7c15807a990490b145c4

2009

Brad Fittler Drunken Disorderly Conduct https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/how-i-lost-control-fittler/news-story/c4cc328663678a87d3efe58c69e8ffbe

From 2004

Willie Mason Urinating in Public, Assault, Sexual Assault https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/nrl/scandals-to-sledges-willie-masons-career-highs-and-lows-from-nrl-to-england/news-story/6b4007752b4d5636fc61c69164e8134f

2004

Bulldogs Team Sexual Assault https://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/02/28/1077677017509.html

2018

Matt Lodge Assault http://www.news.com.au/sport/nrl/aussie-league-stars-new-york-rampage-i-didnt-know-when-help-was-going-to-come/news-story/257c6eb3211f91cb63801ff2a96e357d

2009

Craig Gower Indecent Exposure http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=5798

From 2008

Todd Carney Assault https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/nrl/teams/sharks/disgraced-star-todd-carney-has-flushed-away-his-nrl-career-after-sharks-terminate-his-contract/news-story/81d55a6aadb0bc5577f7c706999cc821

2011

Anthony Watts Domestic Violence https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/carneys-career-on-the-line-as-watts-is-charged-with-assault-20110417-1djun.html

From 2014

Mitchell Pearce Sexual Assault https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/nrl/teams/roosters/roosters-halfback-mitchell-pearce-fined-and-suspended-following-nightclub-altercation/news-story/73ef7f11c4f87e1c0c30aa74960a7ad5

2008

Darren Lockyer Assault https://www.smh.com.au/news/news/lessons-learned-lockyer/2008/09/17/1221330905522.html

2010

Brett Stewart Sexual Assault https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/dont-you-know-who-i-am-manly-stars-sex-assault-case-hears-of-confrontation-20100204-ng9j.html

2009

Anthony Cherrington Assault http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/footballer-avoids-jail-for-assault/news-story/7c2ccd406de6a16b5f8ff0cd1063ce1b

Various

John Hopoate Assault https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/john-hopoate-charged-with-assaulting-employee-at-crows-nest-supermarket-20160526-gp457h.html

2007

Paul Gallen Assault https://www.smh.com.au/news/Sport/Gallen-at-centre-of-assault-allegation/2007/10/29/1193618786520.html

2009

Nate Myles Assault https://www.theroar.com.au/2009/07/07/myles-banned-by-nrl-over-hotel-incident/

2009

Jake Friend Assault https://www.theroar.com.au/2009/07/07/myles-banned-by-nrl-over-hotel-incident/

2009

Sandor Earl Assault https://www.theroar.com.au/2009/07/07/myles-banned-by-nrl-over-hotel-incident/

2013

Josh Dugan Cyber Bullying https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/nrl/josh-dugan-launches-vile-social-media-attack-on-fans/news-story/92defd806d5d9f4b77a5520e9eb65600

2013

Richie Fa’oso Domestic Violence https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrls-efforts-to-stop-violence-against-women-shattered-after-faaoso-arrest/news-story/9cd3c46501db46c151fad6bb05fda8e8

From 2013

Ben Barba Domestic Violence https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/bulldogs-and-nrl-must-reveal-the-truth-behind-ben-barba-incident-20130902-2t01n.html

2010

Greg Inglis Domestic Violence https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/greg-inglis-avoids-conviction-over-assault-charge-20100412-s2lg.html

From 2014

Kirisome Auva’a Domestic Violence http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-07/kirisome-auvaa-avoids-conviction-for-domestic-violence/5874178

2013

Tyrone Phillips Assault https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/sentencing-needs-to-reflect-violent-nature-of-crime/news-story/577753efebc4da8fdb45feb7946f7843

2013

Dylan Farrel Assault https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/sentencing-needs-to-reflect-violent-nature-of-crime/news-story/577753efebc4da8fdb45feb7946f7843

From 2016

Shaun Kenny Dowell Domestic Violence, Illicit Drug use https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/toxic-texts-inside-the-lovehate-relationship-of-shaun-kennydowall-and-jessica-peris/news-story/e6c0d6b2f43e7cd719c791b5a998b654

2013

Blake Ferguson Assault https://www.smh.com.au/sport/boxing/anthony-mundine-confident-blake-ferguson-will-appeal-assault-charge-and-return-to-nrl-20131213-2zcf7.html

 

Is this what heroes look like? Really? These are team captains, National team captains, state representatives and Clive Churchill medal winners. These are the most celebrated men of the game.

And yes, I can hear the whataboutism already. ‘He wasn’t even charged.’ ‘That was never proven.’ ‘You’re taking it out of context.’ etc, etc etc. Sure, you can take individual cases and pull them apart if you want to, but type any one of these names into google with the word assault and you will likely get more than one result. And these are just the ones I remember, just the ones that were reported, just the ones that didn’t get squashed. Remember that only 1% of rapes are actually prosecuted in Australia and 99% of victims aren’t lying. (False reporting is estimated by the ABS to be about 1% of claims, consistent with most other crimes).

This week Steve Smith broke my son’s heart. Am I going to stop him from watching cricket? No. Is it a life lesson I am sad he has to learn? Yep. He also saw Steve Smith’s emotional apology and knew he was remorseful. He saw the huge – astronomical – penalty handed down for breaking a rule of his sport, not a rule of law that harms human beings.

I cannot say the same for rugby league. This is cultural. This is consistently giving token penalties for repeated acts of bad behaviour. This is a code that would rather slap a pink jersey on their players once a season and call themselves supporters of women, rather than doing the hard work and introspection to create real change.

Rugby League needs a Me Too moment and soon, if not because the regulatory body wants to be socially responsible then because its fast becoming irrelevant in a time when male entitlement is finally being called for what it is.

Can you remember any incidents I’ve forgotten? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add them in.

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