You may have noticed that I used the word sport and I have done so deliberately. Sport is a microcosm of society and reflects the people in our society. Any issue prevalent in our society will of course be reflected in the microcosm that is sport – whether it be domestic violence, mental illness or alcoholism. So the incident that the Australian sporting community is discussing today is not one which is rugby league specific.
The latest incident in the NRL pantomime is Mitchell Pearce, captain of the Sydney Roosters disgracing himself. On Australia Day, Pearce was filmed drunk, grabbing a woman and forcing himself on her, simulating a sex act with a dog and sitting on a cushion stained by his own urine. Mitchell Pearce – captain of the Sydney Roosters has now been stood down by his Club until further notice.
I am not going to stand here and use overly emotive language because the reality is, I have seen and heard of incidents far worse. Words such as horrific, lewd, violent and disgraceful have been used to describe the incident. The words I would prefer to use are disappointing, embarrassing and childish.
Pearce has been caught on camera acting like an absolute pork chop. Often in situations like this an excuse like ‘boys will be boys’ will be used. But that excuse is not good enough. As a captain, a leader and a senior member of the rugby league family, Pearce should know better, particularly since this is not the first time that Pearce has found himself in the dog house after a night out on the town.
I felt a number of things last night when seeing the footage. I pondered how many drinks Pearce would have had to have had to have found himself in a state of such total inebriation. I reflected on how, despite seeing many of my friends heavily intoxicated I have never seen one of them simulate a sex act with a dog. To me this reflected an issue with Pearce which existed before he drank, a complete misunderstanding of his boundaries and of appropriate behaviour in social situations – an issue which came to the surface because of his inebriation. I felt fury towards Pearce for bringing the game I love so much into disrepute – despite the work of so many ambassadors to ensure that everyone feels welcome, safe and proud of the NRL community.
The punishment for Pearce will be decided shortly by his Club and the NRL Integrity Unit.
But what can be done going forward. How can we assist the men and women that come under our care as players? What is our responsibility to them.
I have a couple of ideas.
The reality is that for many of these men, in particular, playing rugby league is their dream from a very young age. When they enter the NRL system they are taught how to train, what to eat, where to be and depend solely on their coaches, mentors and trainers for much needed support.
In many cases these men are still extremely young and have much to learn. This gives us, as a code, a tremendous opportunity to guide them, to help them and to ensure that they are not only physically fit, but mentally fit too.
The NRL Community does tremendous work in this regard – particularly with our Holden Cup players and ensuring that they understand that there is life after football. Players are strongly encouraged to pursue a profession, a trade or further education and the number of men honoured at the NRL Community and Player Education program last year shows the progress this program has made.
Programs like this should be a priority and players should be encouraged to not only play football, but to pursue a trade, a degree or a professional qualification to show them what the reality of life is (which isn’t being paid thousands of dollars to play sport).
The punishment for Pearce will also be very important. Players need to understand that no matter how much ability they have, that this behaviour is inappropriate, not tolerated and taken seriously. In the past, people have pointed to incidents where the higher the profile of the player, the more lenient their Club has been in regard to behaviour. I am hopeful that with the introduction of the NRL Integrity Unit, we see consistency and a zero tolerance towards misbehaviour.
The reality is, whether they want to be or not, our players are role models. This does not mean that they need to be saints – it means that they need to act like decent human beings. This is absolutely not too much to ask and if it is, perhaps the people that play our game need to reconsider their career options.
Had Pearce gone out with his friends for a couple of drinks on Australia Day – we would not have had a problem. I wish he had had a mate with him who would have patted him on the back and said ‘mate, it’s time to go home now.’ Instead, he had a ‘friend’ who decided, rather than telling Pearce, ‘enough is enough’, that they would rather film his behaviour instead and make a profit. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Before I sign off, I would also like to reiterate my first point, which is that sport is a microcosm of society and is reflective of issues in our broader society. Let’s take a moment to remember the work that so many of our NRL players do in the community. Our game is a giver – a giver to its fans, to the people that play it and to its community. I’m hopeful that in the next week as we edge closer to the Auckland Nines that we can spend time celebrating that, rather than booing the latest NRL villain to take the stage.
Ladies who League xxx