Existence in the Nanny State

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

Rugby league is a game played by men. Men with heavy testicles and thick necks with deep wells of courage and a drive that puts even the best merchant bankers and politicians to shame. The athletes who cross the chalk and enter the rectangular battlefield are brave and brutish, skilful and competitive, beguiling and coarse. They have a thirst for violence, admittedly controlled, that most normal humans cannot fathom along with a skill set that allows them to make a living from playing the game because people are prepared to give their money and time to watch them.

They are outstanding athletes who should be lauded for their courage, competitiveness, skill and ability to entertain through their extraordinary sporting deeds. Their athletic abilities are to be admired and in that sense they can be held up as role models.

Rugby league players cannot, however, be held up as role models for good citizenship. At least not as a collective, just as no collective can have the individuals that comprise it simplistically sterilised into sameness. No group of people can be held up as role models for good citizenship as doing so simply exterminates any sense of individuality.

We have been over this before. Many times. Most recently with Michael Phelps. Athletes are athletes. They should not be held to a higher or lower standard because they excel at sport rather than accounting, poetry or snake milking. They are citizens who make a living from playing sport. They make a living from playing sport because the market allows for it. There is a demand for entertainment and athletes provide that entertainment.

Some citizens who make their living from sport are law-abiding do-gooders who commit few wrongs. Others are serial recidivists who break the law and harm others. Most fall somewhere in between. None of that is particularly relevant other than to say that the individuals that comprise a group of people are different. They should all be held to the same laws and social standards just as people across different groups should be held to the same laws and social standards. An excellence in athleticism does not mean you need to adhere to a higher form of social behaviour than those of us who sit somewhere between decent and abysmal in the continuum of athletic ability.

This, of course, is a tiresome argument and one that has been trotted out on innumerable occasions on these pages. It is a liberal opinion that is not only valid but entirely correct to anybody with enough common sense to avoid bandwagons and lynch mobs. But I am sick of arguing it and I dare say the great majority are sick of reading “The Sportsman Is Not A Role Model” line. I just can’t let it slide, however. More to the point, I won’t and if this turns into some form of crusade then so be it.

In the last few weeks, four NRL players have been out on the drink and have been torn down by the media and punished by the league who have acceded to yet another populist campaign. They have not only suffered greater punishments because they are footballers but different punishments based on their differing talents as footballers.

Brett Stewart is a fine footballer, a tremendous athlete and a try scoring machine. He is a role model fullback. He is not a role model for good citizenship. He was suspended by the NRL for four weeks, allegedly because he was publicly drunk and because he was selected to partake in the NRL’s advertising campaign. The punishment was given without warning and made without precedent but allegedly had nothing to do with a sexual assault charge hanging over his head, David Gallop going to great lengths to exert that the NRL was not infringing on the notions of a presumption of innocence and natural justice.

Anthony Watmough is a tough rugby league player and a fine example of a fearless and hard-working forward. He is not a role model for good citizenship. He was drunk at the same function as Brett Stewart and allegedly punched a sponsor in the face. He suffered no league punishment, a somewhat interesting position seeing as Stewart was suspended for being drunk and not over allegations he was involved in a sexual assault.

Jake Friend is, well, a first grade footballer. He may turn out to be a decent hooker. He may not make the nut. Either way, he is not and should not be held up as a role model for good citizenship. He was caught drink driving after a Roosters bonding night. He has accepted his guilt. Yet he only received a two-week suspension from the NRL with David Gallop and company seemingly considering drink driving half the offence of being drunk at a club function if you are in the NRL advertising campaign and twice the offence of being drunk at a club function and punching a club sponsor.

Brett Seymour is a serviceable half and a rugby league player with an admitted drinking problem. He is not a role model for good citizenship. He was videotaped after a ten hour drinking binge, stumbling around with his shirt off. He received no suspension from the NRL but was suspended for two weeks by his employer, the Cronulla Sharks. Sharks CEO Tony Zappia stated that Seymour would not have been suspended if video tape of the incident did not exist suggesting Seymour was suspended for being caught rather than for being drunk. He did nothing illegal.

These four footballers have all, however, been held up as role models by a media that does same only so they get the opportunity to throw them to the wolves the moment any of them slips up. All four have been out on the drink in recent times, a practice not uncommon among men in their twenties. Jake Friend admitted committing a crime whilst intoxicated. Stewart and Watmough were both accused of committing a crime whilst under the influence. Brett Seymour, while acting somewhat inappropriately whilst pissed, did nothing illegal and nothing particularly unusual among those who binge drink.

Yet they were all led to the stoning by a rabid media hell-bent on holding these athletes to higher standards than the rest of society. It is vile populism run wild. The Daily Telegraph, the same newspaper that printed nude pictures of a woman named as Pauline Hanson without ever corroborating the story and without ever seeing the original slides and where the pictures turned out to be manufactured, has continued its rabid campaign of high-end moralism that sees league players torn apart at the first opportunity. Channel Nine paid a woman $3,000 for footage of Brett Seymour drunk despite the fact he committed no crime and was harming nothing but his own reputation, further encouraging money-whores and con-artists to set up the well-known in order to earn a payday. The media has engaged in a hypocritical and fanatical campaign in order to justify their own existence.
Worse, the NRL has acceded to it, joining the lynch mob to appease low-brow media outlets with the short-term hope that it will boost the image of the game. As such the NRL has continued its habit of making policy on the run and then not enforcing it consistently. See the Bulldogs loss of 37 points in 2002. If the NRL was serious about eradicating a culture of drinking in rugby league, they would develop a clear policy with obvious penalties and would then enforce those penalties consistently. That is the NRL’s right and would actually assist in reducing the drinking culture and protecting the game’s image. Their belief in ad-hoc decision-making and unclear and inconsistent enforcement of penalties simply makes the NRL look weak and only further fuels a Fourth Estate which believes they can direct the fate of the sport.

The NRL needs to stop reacting to populist moralism driven by a media operating out of self-interest. It is that simple. If men want to drink, they should be allowed. If the NRL is concerned about it happening in public, they should develop a policy and make sure it is enforced consistently with acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and punishments for breaches clearly spelled out and signed off on by the league and the RLPA. Failure to do so will only further indict the league on charges of weakness and hypocrisy while the continuation of ad-hoc punishments dished out inconsistently is an offense to all liberal-minded rugby league lovers who believe in the right of the individual.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.