There’s been plenty of very manly chest-beating since Kirisome Auva’a was found guilty of recklessly causing injury and indefinitely banned from the NRL.
“Let me make it clear… we abhor violence against women and it will not be tolerated in our game,” NRL Chief Executive Dave Smith said when handing down Auva’a’s ban.
The Daily Telegraph‘s Phil Rothfield had earlier written an open letter to Smith, saying, “The game has a responsibility to take a stand on footballers who assault women. Ban them. Zero tolerance. Full stop. End of story.”
It sounds fair enough.
But doesn’t it sound even more fair to take the caveat of ‘women’ out of both those statements?
Why isn’t Smith saying “we abhor violence and it will not be tolerated”? Why doesn’t Buzz say we need “to take a stand on footballers who assault”? Is it only a problem when it’s a man assaulting a woman?
Years ago, in a very public place in front of a lot of people, I was threatened with physical violence by a first-grade NRL prop.
It was late on a Saturday night and we had both had a few. I had only met the bloke that evening and really had very little to do with him, but he had it in his head I was trying to have it off with his ex-girlfriend and spent the evening giving me, who’d make for a small halfback, the kind of looks he usually saved for opposing forward packs.
I was having a traditional post-evening bite to eat in McDonald’s when two metres and 110 kilograms of prop forward loomed over my table and said something to the effect of, “you’re a f**king dead man.”
They say you don’t realise how big a footy player is until you see them play the game live? Bull. You don’t realise how big a footy player is until they’re towering over you, threatening to kill.
That’s where the story ends. He got in a cab and left, and I walked home. Barely worthy of the Telegraph.
But if an NRL player, under the influence of alcohol, had stood over a woman in a crowded fast-food restaurant in the early hours of a Sunday morning and threatened her with violence, would that not be a big story – even if he didn’t actually raise a finger against her?
This is not an attempt to try and justify or excuse what Kirisome Auva’a did. It’s truly a despicable act. But why do we reserve our disgust solely for violence against women?
It’s something we’re taught from an early age – almost every young boy in Australia is told “don’t hit girls”. It’s kindergarten stuff, and why so many have called for Auva’a to be banned from playing rugby league again.
But rather than ‘don’t hit girls’ shouldn’t we be teaching our kids ‘don’t hit’?
Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, Darren Kane outlined his ‘deterrent’ against further instances of domestic violence in the NRL – that players receive an automatic six-year ban for any such offence, based on the automatic two-year ban for dopers.
“Shouldn’t it logically follow that automatic sanctions apply when a sportsperson is convicted of an inexcusable crime, against a defenceless female?” Kane wrote.
Kane cited both Auva’a and Robert Lui in making his case. It was a little odd that he didn’t mention Russell Packer.
Packer was convicted of assault in January this year, and sentenced to two years’ prison. He is still behind bars, but eligible for parole in January, and clubs are reported to be lining up for his services. While the NRL are not guaranteed to register any contract Packer signs, the fact as many as four clubs are eager sign the former representative prop speaks of confidence he will be allowed to play.
No six-year ban for Packer, Darren? The 112-kilogram giant who punched a man to the ground, then continued to beat him as he lay prone, before finally stamping on his head?
Is he right to play five seasons earlier than the rest since the defenceless person he attacked wasn’t female?
I don’t want to belittle domestic violence, or those who are victims of such a cruel crime. But it’s a highly complex issue, and one the NRL aren’t actually tackling – they’re just painting in broad strokes to say they’re against it.
Well as long as they’ve got the paint out, they can go a bit broader.
Any time any person is beaten it’s to be abhorred. Saving a special place for violence against women gives players who assault men wiggle room. The NRL needs to come down hard on players who assault women, absolutely. But they need to come down just as hard on those who assault men.
It’s time we stop giving violence conditions – if it’s happening, that’s problem enough.