Sunday, May 17, 2009

What the NRL Must Do

Volumes have been written this week about Andrew Johns, his involvement in group sex with a NZ woman 7 years ago, his sacking by both Channel 9, the Melbourne Storm NRL team, and the NRL.

I would make the following points about the matter:
  • what Johns did was wrong: allowing other players to enter; cheating on his wife; knowingly indulging in behaviour that might contribute to the spread of STD's; many would argue it was ethically, even morally, wrong.
  • Australians have a term for those other players who "got off" on watching - we call them 'wankers', and it's a term of derision. It might well be literally & figuratively true, given how they've scurried into the shadows this week.
  • those team members who took part, and the club officials, who knew of the behaviour, and did nothing, are also responsible. Legally, it might be called "accessory after the fact". Although no crime appears to have been committed, the 'fact' ahs brought the game, and the reputations of some people, into disrepute.
  • the NRL has concentrated on players only, and Johns in particular. The media has largely done the same, although the Daily Telegraph (15/5/09) carried front page silhouettes of other players allegedly involved.
  • having been complicit in the scapegoating of Johns, it now behoves the NRL to provide appropriate counselling for Johns, and his family.

So, is Andrew Johns a scapegoat? Yes - in biblical times a scapegoat was the goat upon whose head the sins of the people were laid on the Day of Atonement, and which was afterwards sent off into the wilderness (Lev. 16: 21-22). This seems to fit with the actions, or inactions, of the NRL, Channel 9, the Melbourne Storm, Johns's former team-mates, his most recent work-mates, and a multitude of social commentators. There is abundant literature on the psychology of scapegoating (See for an example.) Essentially, scapegoating is a form of bullying whereby others (see above list) avoid admitting to, or consequences of, their wrongdoing. In Johns's case, he appears to have been chosen because of his higher profile that the others.

While Johns had pleaded his 'me culpa' publicly, somewhat reluctantly, and under considerable psychological strain, the others, players and officials, have retreated to the shadows like cowards.

Here are my suggestions for the NRL, but applicable to other sports, male & female:

  • ban alcohol sponsorship: ban new contracts, and the renewing of existing ones. Start with your own representative teams. Ban players, officials, clubs and associations from alcohol sponsorship. If you choose to provide alcohol to your teams, do it behind closed doors, with no outsiders; none. Yes, I know the Brisbane Broncos are sponsored by a brewery, some players drink like they're in a brewery, and some have brought themselves, and the game, into disrepute becausse of it. Ban it anyway.
  • don't just target one player. All players involved need to be reported, if too cowardly to own-up. Officials bear responsibility, too. If it was right to sack Johns from any role with the NRL, it is right that officials who knew should also go. You can't have one rule for "the players" and another for officials: that would be hypocrisy.
  • For away games, especially, it is no longer appropraite to let players do as they please. At home, and away, players represent the club, the team, and the NRL. Consider inviting the girlfriends, parners, wives.
  • introduce a common code of conduct for officials, and players; and enforce it with significant bans. eg cannot be a club official, or be involved club management or board; if an NRL contract is terminated, it ought to be concurrent with a ban on playing.
  • the player education program about how treat women should be extended to all officials, including NRL managemenet, who should attend with the players. This will let them see just how bad are the attitudes of some players towards women.
  • given the claim that this is a common occurrence, test every NRL player for STD's. Do it discretely, and the results should be private, but players should know this is a possible consequence of their chosen NRL lifestyle