Our society has a drug problem, not the NRL

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By , Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Let’s get one thing straight – it’s completely unfair and over the top to suggest that the NRL has a problem with illicit drug use.

    Outraged headlines which suggest that it does come in the context of a weekend which wasn’t the best in terms of news coverage for the game.

    It started on Friday when it was alleged that Rooster Shaun Kenny-Dowall had been caught in possession of cocaine at a Sydney nightclub.

    Next, New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich and Gold Coast Titans co-captain Kevin Proctor were in the spotlight with allegations that they had been filmed taking illicit drugs in the early hours of Saturday morning following the Kiwis’ loss to the Kangaroos on Friday night in Canberra.

    We all know the old saying that bad news comes in threes. It was certainly the case over the weekend with Cronulla Sharks chairman Damien Keogh forced to stand down after he was charged by police for allegedly possessing drugs when searched in Woolloomooloo on Friday night.

    It would be very easy for us to stand and point our fingers at the NRL and make it out to be the bad guy, but that would be unfair.

    If we think about the NRL as an employer, it’s an employer which employs about 700 top-tier NRL players in any one playing year.

    These 700 players come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many come from a different cultural background, some have experienced financial hardship growing up and some have been met with other challenges in their formative years.

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    For many of these men, rugby league is an opportunity for a way out and a way for them to transform their lives. Our sport is a young man’s game and the reality is, no matter how much money is spent on education, some of these men will make mistakes along the way.

    That’s why I appreciate the NRL’s current drug testing regime, whereby the first strike sees the player referred to his club CEO for education and rehabilitation, the second strike results in a 12-week suspension and then the third strike sees a referral to NRL CEO Todd Greenberg for punishment.

    We are a game that seeks to educate, but also practices forgiveness.

    Please for one moment do not think I am an apologist for drugs. The bottom line is that illicit drugs are illegal for a reason – they can have a variety of negative impacts not just on the user, but also vicariously on the people around the user. In some circumstances they can have severe effects on behaviour, cause health problems and can put the user in a situation of financial instability.

    But suggesting that, because a couple of these incidents are uncovered in the NRL each year, drug use is rife and endemic is over the top.

    Illicit drug use is not something which only the NRL is dealing with. Recently, The Daily Telegraph crowned Sydney “the cocaine capital of Australia” and research by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission saw NSW top the list regarding usage of the drug.

    In Sydney alone, there was double the amount of cocaine discovered compared with any other capital city.

    The NRL is a microcosm of society and this microcosm will absolutely reflect the issues that we as a society are grappling with. This is why our game is consistently working to educate players on drugs and alcohol, financial independence, gambling and domestic violence. As long as these issues continue to be prevalent in our society, they will continue to be reflected in rugby league.

    When I heard the news about these players over the weekend, the overwhelming feeling was disappointment. Disappointed that after a loss players decided it was a good idea to go out into the early hours of the morning, drink plenty and then allegedly take drugs. Disappointed that despite the education we have around recreational drug use that players still think it’s a good idea and disappointed because although these incidents are not catastrophic, it isn’t the best look for the game.

    Jesse Bromwich, Rugby League World Cup trophy

    (Photo: 2017 Rugby League World Cup, Scott Davis)

    I was also disappointed to hear the Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans trying to shift blame away from Bromwich and Proctor onto the New Zealand Rugby League for not adequately supervising the two men. The two players are both grown adults who made a decision and each one needs to stand by the decision and accept the consequences that come with it.

    Shifting responsibility elsewhere is childish and gives players the opportunity to blame others for something they should be taking responsibility for.

    The consequences for each of Bromwich and Proctor have been severe. In the first instance, Bromwich was stripped of New Zealand captaincy and Proctor has been stood down from the Titans leadership group.

    It was also announced yesterday that neither player will be available for selection for the Rugby League World Cup team later this year – what a shame that international rugby league will suffer because of the consequences of a drunken night out on the town.

    Despite my disappointment with these players, for me, there are much bigger issues that the NRL (and our society) faces like domestic violence. Another one is gambling.

    In an environment where almost each club in the NRL has an official betting partner, where Brookvale Oval has been renamed Lottoland and where the live telecast is interrupted throughout with updates on the odds, is anyone surprised that gambling is another issue which touches our players?

    Add to that the ‘funny’ Sportsbet ads and we have a situation where gambling is normalised and made to be fun and trendy. This makes me extremely uncomfortable.

    We all have a role to play in defending and looking after our game when these incidents occur. Instead of being the butt of a joke, use the opportunity to educate people on the extensive work the NRL does in educating our players and the extensive work so many of our players do in the community.

    And as for the ‘endemic drug culture’ which is plaguing the NRL – we as a society need to look around and think about how not only the NRL can assist and educate the players in its system, but how we can assist and educate ourselves as a wider society.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.