Thursday, 28 January 2016

The NRL and the age of entitlement

Mitchell Pearce. Photo: The Roar
I've written about entitlement issues before, mostly in regard to teenagers. You can read that HERE. However, it's not just the kids who can sometimes be called on an exaggerated sense of entitlement by any means. In the wake of the Mitchell Pearce debacle, social media has exploded with commentary - as was to be expected in an age of smart phones and a media network always hungry for a sensational image or video. For me, Clementine Ford's piece in Daily Life really summed it up. 

Rather than a general rant about yet another NRL player doing something vile while 'off duty' (so to speak), Ford takes a hard look at the culture of the NRL, and the overriding sense that comes from constant stories like that of Pearce, that the players themselves, and the organisation don't appear to hold themselves to generally appropriate standards. Not only is an incident like Pearce's recent efforts not really news any more, given that just about any time players from the NRL are out to play and there's alcohol involved we can almost count on hearing - or seeing - about assaults, inappropriate sexual behaviour, violence and other socially unacceptable carrying on. We can also be reasonably sure, based on a string of like incidents, that the culprits are unlikely to suffer too much as a consequence, unlike their victims. As Ford says in her article, while there may well be civil charges and fines, the NRL doesn't appear to see that their players' behaviour is at issue - since it is rare that they, as an organisation take steps to bring any consequences to bear.

There is some talk that in Pearce's case, he may be stood down from The Rooster's captaincy. However, if we look at the fate of other players who've crossed the line, we've good reason to expect that if, as a result of his behaviour, he does lose his place at Easts, it's quite likely he'll turn up sometime down the track playing for another club. 

Whether they like it or not, these men are public figures, and are - supposedly - role models. Our kids, if they're into League, look up to them. They represent a dream many football mad kids have that one day, they too may be up there playing professionally. Mrs Woog wrote today about having to tell one of her sons what Pearce had done - Pearce being one of his favourite players. HOW do you tell a young boy about that? How to you frame the story of a drunken binge where a man out of control harasses a woman in her own home for sex, repeatedly, and when rebuffed he mimes a sexual act with the woman's dog, urinates all over her furniture and refuses to leave when asked? How do you explain a world that, as the story breaks, features people blaming the woman in question - brushing away what the man did because 'that's just men'?

Dragon Dad and I were talking about it yesterday, and he said to me, "When I have a few drinks (which, by the way isn't all that often, really) I don't force myself on a woman, and then consider playing that I'm having sex with a dog - let alone wee all over the furniture! Why don't I do that? Because it's nowhere in my head as something that's OK to do!" 

As he went on to say - and it was a mighty fine rant, too - alcohol usually brings out what is latent in people. Give Dragon Dad a couple of beers, and he'll be a happy, giggly and entertaining mess - he really can't drink. Give my late father a few, and he'd turn angry and violent. My ex husband would become sullen and aggro. Of the three, Dragon Dad's reaction to booze is closest to what you see in him sober. The other two had a veneer over the nasty stuff that fell off when under the influence. So it begs the question, given the history of bad behaviour (to put it nicely) of NRL players when drunk, who those men really are, and why it is that they're so revered...

Because they can run fast and kick a ball? Because the big ones can charge and send bodies flying all over the field? Because they earn such ridiculous amounts of money just playing footy?

None of those things makes those men special, smart, or even successful, really. It just means they've been VERY VERY lucky. The percentage of men who get to play at that elite level, of the thousands who want to, is tiny. Obviously, that creates all sorts of pressures for them - but that's no excuse for foul behaviour off the field. Yet, it continues to happen. When are the NRL executives, coaches and managers going to step up and own that there is a serious problem in the culture of League football today? It's not OK to continue to mitigate the possible damage done to the image of the clubs and pass if off as 'men behaving badly', as if that's to be expected and somehow understood. I'm sure as hell the woman in the Pearce story is still struggling to understand how things got so out of control at her house...


  1. Too right Kaz. Revolting behaviour and he deserves the book thrown at him. I'm glad his 'mate' filmed it because anyone would find it hard to believe someone could be capable of such acts! And even with that proof people are STILL blaming the female victim? This incident is damning of sportsmen's entitlement as well as the larger society's willingness to put blame on the victim, especially if they're a woman. What person would ever suspect someone could behave like that in their house? Michelle

    1. Hi Michelle - thanks for dropping by and commenting.
      You're absolutely right, in everything you say. I'm SO over reading yet another story about NRL players acting out - and I have to say, Pearce's public apology didn't really impress me all that much - especially since his rehab is to be at some fancy overseas facility - nice, huh?! Because he's too special to go somewhere here?