It’s safe to assume that most Australians love sport. Whether it is watching a Cricket Test Match all summer long, sitting up to the early hours of the morning to watch a European Football match, or tuning in once every four years to watch the Olympics. There is usually something for everyone, from devout, hardcore fans, to the slightly less interested, sport has become somewhat of a national past time for Australians, as both participants and as spectators. However, there is one sport in particular which seems to have become the bad egg of the bunch. This sport is The National Rugby League (NRL) and has become the most toxic sport in Australia.
The definition of NRL states, “The National Rugby League (NRL) is a league of professional men’s Rugby League teams in Australia”. However, the use of the word “Professional” made me retract – not in the sense for which it was being used, I understand completely the concept of being the highest graded players in the sport, proficient in their ability to charge at one another, tackle and fight feverishly in an highly testosterone induced state in hopes of winning a game – it stopped me because surely if one is professional on the field, then are they not also expected to remain professional off the field? An actor is still an actor once the camera stops rolling. However, the notion of retaining a sense of professionalism once the whistle has been blown and fulltime has been called, seems to have never registered in the frontal lobe of a considerable number of NRL players. In fact, it seems to have been completely lost.
It is this lack of off-field professionalism that consistently makes the headlines, often for its innate ability to produce profanity instead. The particular profanity I am sure you are familiar with; has become such a regular occurrence it would almost be hard to miss. The off-field antics of NRL players have become bigger than the game itself, consistently making news headlines for some form of appalling behaviour where Mr. Big-Shot-NRL-player, star of the year, adds another wrongdoing to the already long list of wrongdoings racked up by fellow NRL players, often concerning the sexual assault, physical attack, or some other form of malicious behaviour towards a woman.
And it is such off-field behaviour, and the frequency to which they occur, that has caused the integrity of the game of NRL (which arguably hasn’t existed for a long time) to dwindle. Dwindle so much that long time fans of the game – those who realize that the way NRL players treat women is wrong – no longer want to support their team and ultimately a game they once loved for simply being fed up with the actions of certain players and the toxic culture they perpetuate.
Can they be blamed? How can you support a game which makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons? Scandals concerning NRL players occur as regularly as mass shootings in the United States. I know that’s a bold analogy, but the frequency of Rugby League scandals is as frequent as mass shootings in America. In both instances it’s a broken culture that needs to be fixed.
In 2013 when playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs, Ben Barba punched his ex-partner Ainslie Currie in the face. In 2016, Following the Cronulla Sharks Grand Final win he tested positive for Cocaine. And in 2019, on the Australia Day long weekend he was caught on CCTV footage at a Townsville casino, once again, assaulting his partner. In September 2018, South Sydney Rabbitohs player Sam Burgess, who is married with kids, was caught in a sexting scandal, with a woman who alleged that multiple Rabbitohs players exposed themselves to her. In the same month, Parramatta player Jarryd Haynes allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in the Hunter region on Grand Final Night 2018. And just this month, Canterbury Bulldogs recruit Dylan Napa was caught in a sexually related scandal as explicit videos of him were made public.
These are just a few of the more recent issues from a long list of scandals that are commonplace in NRL culture.
Now, I’m not saying that all NRL players are bad, or that all Americans are gun crazed and trigger happy, there are many great and respectable NRL players, just as there are many great and Respectable Americans, but it’s the actions of a few – and in the case of the NRL, a growing few – that are giving the sport a bad name for everyone else involved.
Even the Cricket ball-tampering scandal that broke in March last year devastated fans, but that was restricted to the sport itself, we didn’t hear any reports of an intoxicated Steve Smith beating on his wife, or Cameron Bancroft being caught on camera participating in a night club brawl. The reputation of Australian cricket was damaged but the players did their best to remain professional when off the field.
I hope that no more women suffer mistreatment at the hands of NRL players, but if they do, they should always come forward and keep the heat on the wrong doings that take place within the culture of NRL. But will that really make a change? How many times must women suffer before the message gets through to these people, how long before they realise that they are not Gods above the law, just normal men whose mentality remains stagnant – a hint to their level of education – in a world that is striving to deconstruct toxic masculinity and empower femininity. When will they learn that their actions have a reaction?
The saddest part of all this, is knowing that sooner or later I am going to turn on the TV and watch the evening News and surely enough – as sure as I am that night will follow day –there will reports of another NRL player caught in the midst of some form of heinous behaviour, just as there will be reports of another mass shooting in the USA. It saddens me because it is just the nature of the beast, it’s the mentality, it’s the education level, it’s the reluctance to change a culture that has evolved over time into what it is today, it’s people doing something wrong and only seeking forgiveness when they have been caught, it’s just the way things are, it is the culture of a sport riddled with toxic masculinity that promotes aggression and violence on the field and off the field.
You may think I am being biased to a game when it is the players of that game who are at fault, but it is the players who make the game, who promote the culture, who still maintain their title as Rugby League stars off the field and who tarnish the name of the game when they are caught doing something erroneous. Such individual is anything but “professional”, and will ultimately be credited with a decline in popularity of the game. NRL is no longer just about sport, it is now a political playing field where toxic masculinity still reigns supreme and there are no real winners just victimized women.
What does the future of NRL hold? If I was to guess – based on its current trajectory – that things in the future won’t look to favourable for the sport, but I’m not about to wait around to find out.