Three years ago I wrote a piece on misogyny and the boorish behaviour often displayed by some NRL players.
Despite shopping the article around, no organisation would publish the piece. The fundamental reason was a fear of offending some of the names contained and the associated media organisations.
In light of recent events, perhaps it should have been published. The lead-up to the 2019 NRL season has been nothing short of crippling. Don’t be fooled into believing that the recent dismissal of Cowboy’s recruit Ben Barba was anything other than the icing on what has become a foul tasting cake.
Dylan Napa has lived a public hell for the past month after footage of his youthful escapades hit social media, Jarryd Hayne and Jack De Belin were both charged with aggravated sexual assault and police decided to continue pursuing the assault charges against the Sea Eagles’ Dylan Walker, despite his fiancée withdrawing her allegations.
Less public were the indecent assault charges against Wests Tiger’s Zane Musgrove and Penrith’s Liam Coleman, yet as a rugby league writer and fan, it has been nothing but a distasteful and depressing period of exposure.
Of most concern is the fact that apart from Adam Elliott’s public nudity and the media stakeout that caught out the Bulldogs and embarrassed the entire club in September, the last four months has seen a litany of incidents arise with misogyny and disrespect/violence towards women at their core.
Yes, there are wonderful men in the game; players, coaches and officials. However, Todd Greenberg’s recent ‘enough is enough’ stance confirms what many feared and knew. The decision to effectively remove Ben Barba from the Australian brand of the game should be applauded, but it also confirms a widely held belief that the issue is cultural and at its heart lies a level of misogyny and disrespect that is no longer accepted; if it ever was.
Many will applaud the tough stance now taken, yet the NRL has allowed the culture to fester and grow with wrist slapping punishments commonplace for years. To now draw the line in the sand appears nothing but reactionary.
Much will be made of the player education investment that the NRL makes each year. NRL players tell me anecdotally that it is essentially a tokenistic process, with the emphasis on having ticked off the requirement, rather than having any long lasting impact or effect on their development into mature young men.
In reality, the game has done little to shape and encourage a better culture, with off-field indiscretions commonly deflated as ‘unfortunate incidents’. How Matt Lodge was permitted to join the Broncos will long remain one of life’s mysteries and the sheer length of Barba’s ‘rap sheet’ says a great deal about the soft message emanating from the NRL.
Indeed some of the men involved in the media coverage of the game may also be a part of the problem. A problem that now exists beyond mere perception. Mark Gasnier’s infamous ‘Fire-up bitch’ incident in 2004 should perhaps preclude him from the privilege and luxury of the commentary work he currently undertakes and how quickly Matthew Johns was able to rebuild his public image after the group sex revelations of 2009.
The talented, new breed of female rugby league broadcasters that includes Lara Pitt, Hannah Hollis and Yvonne O’Keefe, deserves better than having to share space with such men. Both must find it difficult to criticise the players under current scrutiny thanks to their own and acknowledged poor decisions of the past.
Society appears to be shifting; shifting to a place where a zero tolerance exists when it comes to violence and where the promotion of #Respect is seen as paramount in a modern, fair and functioning society.
It appears the NRL, with the stance now taken against Barba, has finally woken up, after paying lip service for so long. Sadly, it appears a little late and the damage done will not be easily remedied.
I’ll still be at my home team’s matches this season because I love the game. As do my two daughters. It is sad that the last four months of headlines has sent them the most horrific and Neanderthal-like perception of NRL players.
The players as a whole are better than that and there is nothing wrong with removing those that aren’t.