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Why are we so negative about rugby league?

Paul Gallen is going from strength to strength in the ring. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Guru
3rd July, 2013
56
2435 Reads

It’s been a funny few weeks in the world of rugby league. Remarkably, Manly’s David Williams was charged with affray and offensive behaviour at a Kings Cross nightclub.

This is remarkable not for the act in question, but that a north-shore resident would be caught dead on the other side of the bridge.

Perhaps he was lost.

Then there’s the Blues Origin great Glenn Lazarus leading the inimitable (in a bad way) Clive Palmer’s senate ticket in the next Federal Election. I don’t know much about the Brick’s politics, but I suppose credit must be given as his political career has lasted longer than his Queensland rival, Big Mal.

Meanwhile, Phil Gould has done something no-one ever expected him to do, something even the Fonz could never bring himself to do – he’s admitted that he was wr…wr….wr….wrong.

Yep, he had it all wrong about Golden Point. Such was the magnitude of Gould’s proclamation that the earth briefly ceased rotating on its axis.

In that vein, I want to write something different – read “positive” – about our great game. After all, there has been so much negativity lately that it’s worth taking time to think of the countless things about rugby league that bring joy to so many thousands of fans.

And to be honest, I’m sick of all the opinion pieces about Gal’s punch (and yes, I am guilty of writing one as well).

Reading the commentary about rugby league players, one would be forgiven for thinking that they are the dregs of society. But the reality is that most players are just…well…ordinary blokes.

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Crime? I don’t know the stats, but I would surmise that rugby league players are no more likely to commit a crime than members of the general population.

Drugs? I’ve spent most of my working life working in financial services (forgive me) and I reckon the proportion of employees at many large financial services firms who regularly take recreational drugs is higher than in rugby league.

Alcohol abuse? There has been much concern about binge-drinking among young Australians (and the violence that often ensues).

Again, I don’t know if the stats bear this out, but I would assume that a smaller proportion of professional rugby league players have a “problem” with alcohol than the general population. After all, drinking excessively is not in keeping with the level of training and fitness regimes professional footballers are required to maintain.

Unethical behaviour? Are rugby league players any more or less ethical than, say politicians? Or real estate agents? Or bookmakers? Or lawyers?

I don’t necessarily know the answer, but am perplexed as to why we apply a different set of moral and ethical standards to our sportspeople than to others in the public (and private) eye.

We can also compare rugby league players to athletes from other professional sports and the vast majority appear as veritable angels.

Take American football as an example. Until a rugby league player is charged with dog-fighting (Michael Vick) or murder (Aaron Hernandez) or heavy weapons charges, I’ll take our players any day.

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Interestingly, in the days since Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder, the prices fetched for his memorabilia in the United States has sky-rocketed. I don’t know what that says about American society, but it aint pretty.

Of course, I shouldn’t tar all NFL players with the same brush, but nor should we do the same to rugby league players. In reality, the worst crime committed by many rugby league players is appearing in a women’s clothing on The Footy Show – oh the horror.

One of the best lines I have come across recently was in a Sydney Morning Herald article that stated that “for every Blake Ferguson there are any number of Nathan Merritts involved in rugby league”.

It’s something we too easily forget. Run through the team sheets of any first-grade NRL team and you’ll find them filled with decent, hard-working and honest men.

Men who regularly and in their own personal time visit children’s hospitals to give succour and joy to sick kids.

Men who – again unlike the “heroes” from other major sports – spending time signing autographs for fans after matches (witness the Rabbitohs and Raiders players taking photographs with fans after the match last Friday).

Men who have the same fears and goals and yearnings and dreams as the rest of us and who ultimately are not “role models” – at least, no more than a TV news reporters or rock singers or Hollywood actors.

It’s a sad fact, but we rarely hear the media talk about the good things that our players do. I’d love to hear stories from fellow Roarers about some of the positive things that they’ve seen and witnessed coming from our game.

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