Bad Mouthing Rugby League is Easy but not Harmless

Nicholas Elsworth

It doesn’t take long, when reading about the different theories of behavioural change, before similarities come to the fore. One of the first steps, common to many of these theories is identifying that change needs to be made. After this occurs, there are many other steps before real adjustments occur but that first step still needs to be taken.

Society's problems are there to seen in Rugby League: illicit drugs use, domestic violence and sexual assault to name a few. Every time one of these incidences occurs, the entirety of Rugby League is thrown under a blanket of controversy by association. We’re berated into the belief that these problems are systemic within the league. A term like drug culture is thrown around with such whimsy and abandon, seemingly compulsory in newspaper articles and television news stories, that it is now ingrained into the public’s consciousness. As if the cause of these problems is inherently linked to the game.

There is no arguing the seriousness of these problems. Nor should there be any attempt to absolve the perpetrators of crimes with excuses. The problem with the link, between these behaviours and a sport though, is that it allows us to lay the blame for these serious issues with the organisation that these players are connected. These are Rugby League players but before that they are young men and the latter is by far the more important when attempting to pertain the root causes of these major societal issues.

30.5% of men between the ages of 20-29 have used drugs according to the Australian Drug Foundation; an NRL squad is around twenty-five players and there are sixteen teams. Why are we then so bemused when players are caught taking drugs? No one is suggesting that there are 120 players doing illicit drugs but if you took that many men out of the general population the statistics say there would be. And if there were that many players doing drugs, what does that have to do with League? This is an issue that spans society and doesn't discriminate based on sports participation.

The White Ribbon Campaign says that one in every three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence committed by someone known to them. There are players who have committed these crimes in the past and it’s very likely that there are players who commit these awful acts now; but not because they chase an oval ball around a field on the weekend. The reason Rugby League players do these things is because there are 400 of them and one in every three women has experienced assault.

When we purport events like these as being part of “that group of people” we alleviate our greater society of its failings and responsibilities. When it comes down to it, the reputation of a sport, might not matter. However, issues as serious as these do and the real causes of them are important to define correctly so that we can fix them. The next time a Rugby League player is being led out of court on television, take a moment to think about what really made that man do what he did.

Please note any views or opinions presented in this piece are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the Rotaract Club of Brisbane Rivercity or Rotary International and its subsidiaries.