Punishing off-field incidents: you can’t win
Recent developments in two different footy codes over recent weeks have created an interesting dilemma around how to discipline a player internally if they are alleged to have been involved in an off-field incident.
A few weeks ago Kurtley Beale was involved in a fracas at the Victory Hotel in Brisbane that resulted in him being charged with assaulting a security guard in the early hours of the morning.
Beale has been named to play for the Wallabies in their upcoming test with the Welsh. The ARU has chosen to take the approach of assuming he is innocent until proven guilty due to the uncertainty of how long police proceedings will take.
In comparable circumstances Jesse Stringer, an eight game player for the Geelong Cats, was suspended from the club for 12 months for an alleged domestic assault.
In both of these instances reckless violence is used and the respective states police have charged these players, however one loses an entire season while the other gets straight back into the side. How does this occur?
Firstly, let us look at each teams current circumstances.
The Wallabies are struggling and lacking in depth, therefore losing their star player for an undefined period of time is going to hurt them dearly. They will be significantly weakened without Beale’s flair and attack from the back. It is convenient that the Wallabies can use the innocent until proven guilty method here.
Geelong has a well-established team that will survive with the departure of one of its younger players. They appear to have plenty of youthful studs on their list to cover Stringers’ absence. The consequences of the suspension are not as severe.
The pros and cons of either decision can be analysed and a reasonable argument can be made for either codes handling of the situation.
Wallabies: “Innocent until proven guilty”
By choosing to allow Beale to play, the ARU and the Wallabies are saying that they will not act until an official legal finding has been made. This would seem prudent given that in everyday life, if you were going to court for assault, your employer would let you continue until you were found guilty. Once you were convicted you would lose your job.
This also would deter scorned ex-partners’ jealousy, hatred and other despicable human emotions being used to conjure up false allegations against professional athletes. What better way for an ex lover, business partner or enemy to get back at you than simply implying something horrendous happened? They can make baseless claims while watching your career sink knowing that there will be little consequence to themselves if they are found to be telling porkies and they would possibly receive lucrative TV deals with Today Tonight or other sensationalist media outlets.
The issues with taking this wait and see approach is that it does not teach the player anything. It gives the impression that the athlete is only responsible for his actions if he gets caught or can afford to pay the person off in an out of court settlement, admonishing any level of guilt or consequence in the short term.
It can have a negative effect on team chemistry. In the Wallabies case Beale now takes the place of game-winning-kicker Michael “Iceman” Harris. Would this not grind your gears if you were Harris? You save the team from defeat against the Welsh and the next week you are being replaced by someone who, allegedly, punched a bouncer. Dissent can spread rapidly among a team and has Ebola-like consequences in regards to team harmony.
Geelong: “Let me show you the door”
This technique of releasing a player instantly based on a serious crime being alleged can help with team culture overall. It shows that these acts, or putting yourself in the position where negative relations may be created, will not be tolerated. It signifies to the team that no matter who you are, violence will not be tolerated and the distraction caused by the incident is not welcomed. If you are found to be innocent then you will more than likely rejoin the team.
The major issue here is that by releasing a player based purely on suspicion or allegations could open the club up to litigation. Releasing a player without factual evidence could be a form of unfair dismissal in our everyday lives. If the athlete is then proven innocent they may have recourse to ask for compensation for lost wages etc, as a result of being dismissed on allegation alone.
Sadly there is no easy answer to all of this. With the advent of Twitter, blogs, Facebook and online media, these situations explode and go viral with alarming regularity. I do not blame the clubs for wanting to cover their asses but I can understand why some would not want a trial by media.
In the end this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. What would fix this is if all codes in Australia would sit down and discuss a structure for how to deal with these matters.
It is important to get some level of consistency. It will provide little recourse for players in terms of litigation and there will be a sound understanding from players and fans alike as to what will happen if you are alleged to have committed a violent act.
At the moment this is all very subjective. I would let the player continue to participate, assuming innocence until proven otherwise. However, I have ‘old world’ views as I am an old man trapped in a young man’s body. Opinions will vary. All I am asking for is some consistency.
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