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Okay Josh, you’ve got me. You do get a harder time from the press than most other rugby league players.
You said that you are now only viewed and portrayed negatively by the press and that nothing is going to change that.
But I know some things that will. Firstly, keep going with your community work and bettering yourself. At very least it will be its own reward.
But most importantly you need to say sorry.
For years I hated Greg Chappell for making his brother Trevor bowl that ball underarm. Even at the age of ten I knew just how wrong that was. In that moment Chappell went from being my hero to being a villain in my eyes.
He hurt my pride in my team. He opened us up to rightful criticism of our character as a nation.
I thought I’d never forgive him. And then one day in the 1990s Chappell said sorry. He said he regretted ever doing it. That he was under pressure at the time but that he should never have given the instruction. It instantly made me feel better about it.
We all make mistakes after all. I forgave Greg Chappell. I feel better for that.
I want to forgive you too Josh. But there is a major obstacle to that: You’ve never said sorry.
And I’m not talking about for every misdemeanor – real or imagined – that you’ve ever committed. I’m taking about saying sorry for basically walking out on the club that developed you and the manner in which you walked out on that club.
You climbed onto a roof with your buddy and posted a very provocative photo that signaled the end of your time with the Canberra Raiders.
To paraphrase the Randy Van Warmer song, you left us just when we needed you most.
Our captain and main playmaker’s left knee had never properly recovered from his 2010 ACL injury and the Raiders really needed our star players – like you and Blake Ferguson – to stand up, fill the void, and show the team the way through a difficult time.
But you did the opposite. You basically bailed on us and you did it in an obnoxious and odious manner.
It really hurt and angered me.
I can’t speak for any others apart from the Raiders supporters (and some of the other Canberra-based sports journalists), but you are right, since March 2013 I have only been a negative voice when it comes to you.
It should never have come to this. I didn’t want it to. Maybe you don’t understand just how much you hurt us.
Canberra’s run into the 2012 NRL finals was great and you certainly were a huge part of that. Your clear talent had all us fans believing that you – our homegrown, Tuggeranong golden boy – could lead us back to glory.
We loved you and you must have known it.
Before the 2012 semi-final against the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, you were practicing your goal kicking. You’d been handed the job as Jarrod Croker was out injured. The fans behind you while you practiced your conversions were cheering you on and encouraging you so loudly. You must have felt that love. That adoration.
You must have…
But then you walked out. You can say as many times as you like that you were sacked, but we all know that you gave the club absolutely no other option. Your subsequent signing for the Dragons was a knife to our hearts.
You had spurned us.
Sure, you might have hated David Furner and thought he was a crap coach. And playing under Terry Campese may have been difficult given his restrictions.
But when the going got tough, you shot through.
No doubt there were lots of voices in your ear encouraging your recalcitrance and subsequent absconding, and you probably felt justified in your actions.
Maybe you were.
But every move you made leading up to it was done in such a way that it was almost impossible to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Constantly sitting out training; regular anecdotes of you interacting poorly with members of the public; the way you held yourself in public; that facial expression that seemed like a permanent sneer; then the cruisers on the roof…
My personal experience of you was that you weren’t the most loveable nor approachable bloke. The times I interviewed you I found your arrogance abrasive and disrespectfully dismissive. When I had occasion to interact with you one-on-one, I was left in no doubt that they were interactions that you wanted no part in.
Twice you treated me like something you would scrape off your shoe.
While you were playing for my side I could take all of that. After all, you owe me nothing. Playing for my team didn’t confer upon you any obligation to interact with me, nor to be my mate.
But when you walked out, it magnified all of those behaviors and experiences that I didn’t like.
I – and the great majority of Raiders fans – became zealots scorned.
Every time we heard negative things about you, we were all too ready to amplify them.
I have certainly been keen to forensically examine your shortcomings and tell as many people as possible about them.
I have wished you no success. I was quick to highlight you telling a punter on Twitter to “end yourself”. I asked exactly where you were when Blake Ferguson got in all sorts of trouble while out with you in Cronulla. I was publicly incredulous about your expectation of “fullback money”.
I’ve been quick to highlight your on-field failures and cast negative judgement on your Lennox Head sojourn with your mate, Blake. While I still called for your inclusion in Brad Fittler’s NSW side this year, I was in no way upset when you weren’t selected.
There has been a lot of schadenfreude in the manner that I have received your failures.
I’ve felt fully justified in that because, to me, you were clearly just a jerk of a bloke. A toxic and nasty person that was deserving of disdain.
But here is the thing that so many of us were quick to forget – or not even consider – when we decided that you were a malignant individual beyond redemption: you were just a kid.
You had no idea what you were doing. Your prodigious sporting skills threw you into a public spotlight – with all its pressures, pitfalls and intrusions – that you clearly weren’t prepared for, nor properly supported to deal with or navigate.
You were just 22 years old in 2013 when all of this came to a head. You were no doubt having to deal with many different voices who were trying to influence and guide your actions. You may even have been prey to self-serving people who were not interested in the long-term project that is making the best possible Josh Dugan, but rather their own interests and plans, in which you were just a pawn.
Yet we expected you to know how to hold yourself, how to be a role model, how to handle all the interactions and demands that you were constantly subject to, and how to make good decisions.
That was an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation to place on you. To then castigate you for your failure to navigate the minefield was a total failure on our part.
When you said the following on Tuesday it really got me thinking about all of this:
“Everyone’s going to have their opinion of me ever since [the 2013 Raiders walkout] and it’s never going to change. It doesn’t matter how much stuff I do outside of footy…
“I’ve copped a lot of brunt for the things that I’ve done. I’ve accepted that and moved on from that. But it also doesn’t help when negativity sells papers more than a (feel-good) story would.”
Those sentiments are fair enough Josh, and your emotion that accompanied them was clearly genuine.
However, your previous actions have put a target on you as being someone that people love to hate. The media loves those people. The likes of Arthur Tunstall, Lara Bingle, Germaine Greer and Anthony Mundine – the latter having used it to his massive financial advantage – have all played the role of villain that you find yourself in.
But I hear you, Josh. You have been making a positive change. You have grown up.
It is clearly time for us to come together with you and begin the healing process (I’m really sorry for using those wanky words BTW).
So I’ll start: I’m really sorry for placing unrealistic expectations on you and for how I’ve treated you, how I’ve attacked you and how I’ve been so willing to participate in bringing you down. I recognise that we all make mistakes and that you regret some of your actions, and wish you could go back and do things differently.
I’m sorry for what I’ve put you through. I’m going to do my best to make sure I do my bit to repair our broken relationship. I’m sorry.
I’m completely sincere in this.
What will make that so much easier for me – and many others – to forgive you and move on is if you now apologise for the stuff you got wrong as well. I reckon it may really help you move on properly too.
If I can forgive Greg Chappell then I can sure as hell forgive you. Try me.
Your move, Josh.