This article was first written for and published by the Roar.
With most NRL teams finishing their seasons over the last month, it’s time for the players to celebrate ‘Mad Monday’ Perhaps this year, more than ever, they deserve the opportunity.
Many players have had to relocate, some have been without their family for an extended period, and just getting through the season unscathed might be enough of a reason to let their hair down.
Even though I know of few other professions where at the conclusion of a major project or significant milestone the team comes together for a big blowout, I have nothing against the concept.
But rugby league can’t seem to go a single year without some sort of controversy erupting during this period.
A couple of days ago, a video circulated on social media where it looked like New Zealand Warriors player Reece Walsh was speaking to police and was then taken away in handcuffs.
A remorseful Walsh fronted the media the next day and admitted he had been arrested, “was searched and I was in possession of a small bag of cocaine, which I had some of during the night”.
Then, on Monday, another video circulated on social media featuring Melbourne Storm players with a ‘white substance’ on a hotel room table.
The incident is under investigation and, according to the Storm, the club and players are cooperating fully with the NRL Integrity Unit.
But is anyone actually surprised?
This is the reality.
Rugby league is a microcosm of our society. That is why when we talk about alleged drug use, violence against women and other indiscretions, it is so important to remember that these players reflect the society in which we live; a society where drug use is rife (particularly of party drugs like cocaine) and in a country where there is a national emergency when it comes to violence against women.
These incidents do not happen in a vacuum.
I understand that there is a significant difference in seriousness level between allegations of violence against women and recreational drug use. I am simply using both as examples.
It also comes as no surprise to me that young men with plenty of time and money may be engaging in illicit drug use.
If this surprises you, ask anyone you know between the ages of 20-50 whether they have or know someone who has engaged in recreational drug use. It certainly surprised me when I realised just how widespread recreational drug use is.
The bigger question I have is why have clubs not sorted out their Mad Monday protocols?
It isn’t hard to put the players in a private space and ask everyone to put their phones in a box at the start of the day.
You would think, following the incident that involved the Canterbury Bulldogs a couple of years ago, that all clubs would have reviewed their protocols.
What concerns me more is that the Storm incident was filmed, potentially on the sly, and then distributed.
It’s unclear at this stage who was filming. Was it another player who then shared it with a mate who then shared it publicly? Was it a staff member? Was it a player who made the decision to share publicly? Or was it just a foolish error?
It sounds like there may have been a breach of confidence and that the people in the room were unaware they were being filmed.
In this situation, being filmed without consent is obviously not the fault of the players, but they have a role in making sure they surround themselves with people they can trust.
Given the prominence of social media, the fame some of these players have and the lure to distribute salacious content for money, clubs and players need to know the risk and be more careful than ever.
Players should absolutely be able to celebrate the end of the season but I want them to do so safely.
While the obvious answer is to act within the bounds of the law, behave themselves and not create challenges, this may be me taking a ‘holier than thou’ approach.
If the players are going to have some fun, then my hope is that they do so understanding the risks, particularly when it comes to people around them.
You never know when your ‘innocent fun’ is going to be captured on video.