If rugby league was a person you’d describe him (and it would be a ‘him’) as equal parts star jock, mug lair and masochist.
Rugby league’s high school yearbook entry would declare that rugby league is very good at running, and lifting heavy things. It would say that rugby league has raised lots for charity.
And that rugby league is popular among his peers.
Rugby league’s yearbook photo would be an Instagram post, all tattoos and muscles, and cheeky grin.
And when people are asked to describe rugby league the person, they would say that rugby league is ultimately a good bloke. And that rugby league is, to coin the vernacular, ‘a bit of a dumb ****’.
And not just rugby league’s players, though certainly it’s been an off-season chock-full of dumb ****ery.
But also up through clubland, where professional organisations are run by individuals without professional qualifications.
Consider the latest edict by some Sydney clubs, led by Wayne Bennett at Souths, that they don’t want to “do media” as prescribed by their governing body, the National Rugby League.
The NRL declared that once a fortnight clubs should put out 17 players for whomever wants to talk them to promote themselves, their club, the game, the brand.
Presumably, believes Wayne, these clubs and whoever else is backing this dumb ****ery, rugby league has enough publicity. And so rugby league has enough fans. Thanks, media. Rugby league is right for fans. All good, don’t need any more…
It’s well known Wayne doesn’t like media. Footy media, anyway. I don’t know if Wayne sees other media as vehicles for holding authority to account and acting in the big picture of public interest.
Maybe he loves Four Corners.
The Daily Telegraph? Not so much.
And so every time Wayne fronts media, it’s like he thinks they’re out to get him. To trip him up. And he has to get his licks in before they get theirs.
Players love him for it (because players, when it comes to media and the importance of publicity to their club’s, the game’s and their own personal ‘brand’, are, as has been suggested, dumb ****s).
Darius Boyd once imitated Wayne with one-word answers in a stand-up. Maybe it was funny inside the tent. Outside it looked like high-grade dumb ****ery.
Darius and many players see Wayne as a loving uncle and Svengali. They see him shielding blokes from media, and believe its indicative of his love for them, that he doesn’t want any harm to come to them.
And that’s likely true. And it’s understandable for players to love him so for it.
Wayne shields his poor poppets from Evil Media who might write nasty things about them, and harm their confidence.
Now, Wayne’s been around the block. He’ll contort the news and have a crack at a ref so that Biffo’s knock-on at the death isn’t back page. It’s to protect blokes. And players naturally love him for it.
But here’s the thing – it’s ultimately really dumb.
Because while truth can hurt, big picture is all important. And if Biffo’s knock-on is the news, it’s the news. And good for the big picture, as mandated by media, whose agenda is truth.
Don’t laugh. Who else upholds it? Politicians? Business? The banks? Please. Wasn’t for media, Eddie Obeid would be running NSW.
Anyway, all publicity is good publicity, even if it’s bad. Well, Jack de Belin might disagree.
But the 17 players in a fortnightly all-in is hardly running the gauntlet at Crown Court.
And it’s extremely valuable.
Firstly, it’s free. And it’s true. The hell with PR and spin and comms professionals teaching players to stay ‘on message’, and borderline mute, and afraid.
A pox upon all of that.
Tell your truth and let the cards fall where they will.
Now, sure, it’s not easy being green and fronting a bunch of microphones and cameras and smart-arses with university degrees, all these slick young nerdos in suits, these hotties in lipsticks, poking their phones at your gob, and all that.
And there you are sweating up a storm, and people you’d have disdained in high school are asking ‘hard’ questions like, “Big game this week, Biffo. What are you expecting from the Bullfrogs?”
And: “Who set the sex tape free?”
And all that.
And, granted, being interviewed about one’s voyeuristic, swinger-esque love-lifestyle is not something anyone would want to talk publicly about.
And fair dues for fronting up, even if there was no choice. Because, rugby league must reap what you’ve sewn.
Even your club’s own spin doctors will tell you that.
Anyway, talking to the reptiles is part of the pro sporto gig. And the more you do it, like anything – like, let’s say, you know, playing rugby league – the better you become at it.
And the better and more relaxed you are talking to media, the more you will enjoy it.
And there could even come a time that you may see it as practice for a career post-footy in the industry that you’ve brushed and given nothin’ to your playing career, Corey Parker, say it ain’t so…
Now, granted, we needn’t always gaze longingly to America to laud how things are done there, for while their culture’s familiar, many Americans are off their freakin’ heads.
There’s a suburb in Phoenix, Arizona trialling driver-less cars, and people are afraid of them and shooting at them. That’s a dumb **** activity, shooting at driver-less cars.
But in terms of money and sports and branding and publicity, Americans invented it all. They invented sports marketing. And they know that media – any media – is free advertising for one’s brand.
And branding is valuable.
And advertising is valuable.
And free advertising for a brand is the most valuable thing of all.
Why? Because it is advertising! And it is free! Have you read nothing?
This is not the science that launched Sputnik.
It is win-win. And American sports are billion dollar babies.
In rugby league though, it is more yeah-nah.
In America, for dear sweet Rod ‘The Rocket’ Reddy’s sake, journos are talking to NFL players as they warm up on the field – and broadcasting this stuff to their fans.
Media can talk to LA Lakers 20 minutes before they jog out – and broadcast this stuff to the fans.
In the hour or so after the match, in the sheds, it’s stacks on. It’s mandated in the laws of a playing contract you have to speak to media to spread the love and promote the brand. It’s just the gosh-darned done thing.
And rugby league can’t come to once a fortnight, all in? Please.
It’s blinking bloody obvious to anyone with the most tenuous grasp on the capitalist system.
If you can promote your brand and not spend any money doing it, it’s win, win, win.
Why? Because it’s free advertising! And advertising is a big part of how the capitalist monetary system of buy and sell, supply and demand, works. It’s Economics 101. It’s before that. It’s Economics 100, or 83, or 11.
Yet this is apparently not obvious to rugby league. Because rugby league is a dumb ****.
In rugby league, the chief inmate is running the asylum.
Coaches – people who are expert at coaching other people how to play rugby league – appear to have no regard for the business as a whole, for their footy club’s, the very game’s brand.
They are people who run economies without degrees in economics.
They are people without degrees in marketing dictating how much marketing can be done. On how big rugby league can be.
It’s like the salary cap, except it’s a cap on free publicity for the brand. You know, that highly valuable stuff that makes the game grow.
We’re always told Australia has a ‘highly competitive sporting market’, and all that stuff.
So riddle me this, Mr Bennett and Mr Hasler, apparently super-smart super-coaches: why wouldn’t you take every opportunity offered to get your footy code – the game, its people, the whole mess and mittens – into the free advertising represented by media?
Because your players might be afraid?
Rugby league players are the stars of a show put on each weekend by clubs signed on with the National Rugby League.
And each week, to promote those shows, it takes the stars of the show to talk about the shows, and so promote them.
It is Publicity 101. Maybe 83. Maybe six.
When Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett make a movie, they travel the world promoting it. They are multi-millionaires and talented, famous, even important people.
Yet Manly will circle wagons and baulk at Tom Trbojevic talking to whoever wants to talk to him? Because… he… doesn’t fancy it?
Rugby league? I love you. But you are a dumb ****.