This article was first written and published for the Roar.
There are just eleven sleeps until the NRL season starts again and for this I’m very grateful.
Not just because it means footy will be back on my television screen, but also because I’m hopeful that the actual footy will give fans something else to focus on, rather than the raging bin fire that has been the most recent off-season.
There’s no other way to sell it – this off-season the NRL has literally lurched from one disaster to another and I think close to irreparable damage has been done.
The last six months have had it all – sex tapes featuring players, several allegations against players of very serious offences, a coach deregistered indefinitely and substantive breaches of the salary cap by the Wests Tigers and the Cronulla Sharks, with suggestion that the Melbourne Storm are also having challenges around the cap.
When Todd Greenberg and Peter Beattie fronted the media last week they were left with no choice other than to change the current policy. Enough is enough.
Via a press conference, it was announced that the Australian Rugby League Commission will stand down players facing serious indictable offences on full pay while they are before the courts without any presumption of guilt or innocence. A serious indictable offence is one that carries a maximum jail term of at least 11 years.
(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Club CEOs also have the discretion to stand down players if the maximum penalty is less than 11 years and given that this is discretionary, I feel like this is the area where we may see some inconsistency between clubs about how the policy is imposed.
But given many club CEOs have come out and backed the new policy, they are perhaps also of the understanding that change needs to happen.
Already this new policy has seen Jack de Belin from the St George Illawarra Dragons stood down as well as Dylan Walker from the Manly Sea Eagles. Scott Bolton from the North Queensland Cowboys has been suspended for five games and fined and Dylan Napa from the Canterbury Bulldogs fined.
Was I happy when the changes were introduced? Happy is not the right word. Relieved is perhaps more appropriate and also sad that it has come to this and that the game’s reputation has been tarnished by the actions of so few.
This has been a no-win situation for the NRL. These are not easy issues to grapple with and even though there are no winners here, I feel like the NRL has got it right and set a standard which will hopefully be consistently applied going forward.
At the very least I was hopeful and still am hopeful that the changes to the policy will send a clear message to players about the standards of behaviour expected of them (which really, are the same standards expected of you and I).
But only a couple of hours after the sanctions against Walker and Napa were announced rumours began which suggested that another sex tape was being circulated, this time featuring a player from the Penrith Panthers.
Now please don’t get me wrong. Compared to some of the behaviours we have seen over the off-season, sex tapes are tiddlywinks.
Additionally, based on the assumption that the acts being filmed are consensual, that the people involved know that they are being filmed and are aware that there are other people in the room, the behaviour that I find most reprehensible is that the tapes are released (I’m guessing without consent).
The videos might be good for a cheap laugh, but the overwhelming feeling I have after watching these videos is sadness because it reminds me how much work we still have to do as a society around respectful relationships.
If people want to film themselves having sex then that is a decision for them and the other person in the video. But my question is why is sex is being filmed and then shared with other people?
The details around this video allegedly featuring a Penrith player are still sketchy, but in the case of Napa, his video had been circulated in a group chat with several other players.
Content put on the internet or shared via social media has a permanent footprint. Players need to understand this and recognise that loyalties can change very quickly and not every person that will receive their video is their mate.
Is this sort of behaviour respected? Is calling a woman a ‘ratbag’ funny? Do players share these videos to get a ‘yeah the boys’ reaction from their teammates? And if that’s the case, then I find it devastatingly sad that to gain respect or get a high five from teammates that this is what players feel that they need to do.
It’s also disappointing that players would risk their reputation and their livelihood for a couple of cheap laughs.
I’m generalising here, I know. This offseason has reinforced that it is always the actions of the few that most heavily impact the situation of the many. It is a shame that plenty of positive work that has been done over the offseason has barely seen the light of day because of the other issues the game is grappling with.
But the fact that I know there are several other players with concerns because there are similar videos of them around is a concern.
The behaviour in the videos suggest a lack of respect to me and seem to mimic actions widely consumed in pornography.
This is not a rugby league problem. This is a problem with our society. We need to talk to young men and women so they have an understanding about what respectful relationships can look like.
We need to look at pornography available and talk to the people around us and make sure that they understand that porn is a performance and not what happens in the real world.
We need to start to change the conversation and in particular what gets a high five in the dressing sheds.