While I thoroughly support Todd Greenberg’s line in the sand in regard to player behaviour, I am very worried that it could have the consequence of attacking the civil liberties and rights of players.
I believe that they need to rethink Jack De Belin’s stand down as a matter of urgency.
The longer I’ve been alive the more evidence I’ve seen that people suck.
Having been closely associated with the game of rugby league for three decades now I can say that can especially applies to league players. I’ve seen that many degenerate, nasty and mean footy players in my time. Blokes I wouldn’t invite to a barbecue if I had to get rid of 20 kilos of sausages in an hour.
I’ve witnessed them being awful. I’ve heard countless more tales of horror of their activities.
But what do you expect? If you give a young bloke a large amount of money, fame and adulation, lots of free time and a bunch of mates in the same circumstances, there is more than a good chance that stupid things will happen. In a sub culture where toxic masculinity can be prevalent, these stupid things can be downright horrible.
Now everyone carries an HD camera capable of capturing and widely disseminating things immediately. I had the picture of Todd Carney in the toilets at Northies within an hour of it happening.
That means more of the players indiscretions are being displayed than ever before. Sam Burgess was right when he said that player behaviour was about the same as it always had been.
The problem is there is so much of it coming out that it is belittling the game of rugby league and compromising what integrity it has. When Todd Greenberg came out last week and started introducing big bans and stand downs he did so to resounding support.
However, how it has been enacted is fraught with risk.
This is especially highlighted by the case of De Belin. His indefinite standing down is an attack on his rights, pure and simple.
NRL HQ can call it a ‘no-fault stand down’ as much as they want, but standing De Belin down before he has his day in court – even on full pay – absolutely confers fault onto him in my opinion.
His coach, Paul McGregor agrees.
“The Commission governs the game, and no doubt they have the greater good of the game at heart. But my thoughts are Jack is the first NRL player in history to be denied the presumption of innocence without a witness or video evidence… Jack maintains his innocence and draws strength from this. He also recognises that he will have his opportunity to defend himself in court.”
Our legal system has at its basis the concept of those brought before the courts being innocent until proven guilty. Anything else is unacceptable in a civilised society.
This measure stops witch hunts punishing innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit.
Yet the NRL – I truly believe with the best of intentions – has effectively declared De Belin guilty through their standing him down, in spite of him denying and challenging the charges.
These charges could take 18 months to be heard and have a verdict handed down. In an NRL player’s career – especially a representative player like De Belin is – that constitutes a huge part of his time.
The charges laid against Jack De Belin do make for some horrible reading. As a father of two daughters, the idea of something like what is alleged to have occurred happening to them is appalling. If the charges against De Belin are proven, then the courts are sure to deal with him harshly – and I hope they do.
But his guilt is only an ‘if’ at this point and it must remain so. We must presume him innocent as he has proclaimed he is. By standing him down the NRL has effectively pre-empted the court’s decision before the trial has even begun.
What if he is innocent? Put yourself in his shoes.
I know he is an NRL player so most of us are automatically predisposed to believing the worst the instant we hear it. But that isn’t even vaguely a reasonable approach.
After an horrific off season of seemingly endless scandals and incidents involving NRL players, I do understand that NRL HQ felt the need to take a strong stance to demonstrate to the public that they were no longer going to stand for poor player behaviour.
Todd Greenberg, Peter Beattie and co. felt the need to draw a line in the sand. I am in complete support of that line being drawn.
Beattie’s words will garner lots of support from the NRL public, no question.
“What we are doing is to set a benchmark and a standard to defend the game of rugby league… Our aim is to rebuild the game. This is about a standard that is expected from players who wish to play in the NRL competition.”
I’m fine with the NRL doing that by standing down and banning players but not at the expense of effectively pre-empting a guilty verdict for a man who may very well be innocent and must be presumed so.
Sure, there are cases like Jack Wighton’s where there was clear video evidence of his actions. Even if there were mitigating circumstances, those actions did bring the game into disrepute. Standing Wighton down before his verdict was delivered had more credence.
But in cases like De Belin’s – even though the charges are far more serious that Wighton’s – we have no such clear cut evidence.
The case of Brett Stewart in 2009 is a better guide for the NRL in relation to how to deal with these matters.
Stewart was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old girl following the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles’ season launch on 6 March 2009.
Stewart was charged with sexual assault on 10 March 2009 but denied the allegation.
The NRL, led by David Gallop at that stage, decided to stop the 2009 commercial which featured Stewart until further notice and suspended him for four games for drunkenness, reportedly stating that “its decision to stop Stewart playing was not intended to reflect any judgment regarding the police investigation into the alleged assault.”
Eighteen long months later a jury acquitted Stewart of the charges. Fortunately he was not stood down that entire time. But De Belin will be.
What if it takes 18 months for De Belin to be found not guilty? How is the stand down possibly justified then?
What compensation will he be given if, after his stand down, he is found not guilty? Do we include potential NSW Origin appearances in his full pay and – if so – who pays that? The NRL standing down players in this manner also opens the real risk of deliberate entrapment.
By clarifying that automatic stand downs will occur where the charges would lead to eleven years or more in jail, they have basically given a guide to what sort of accusation needs to be made to stop a star player from playing.
That may seem far-fetched, but the NRL is a big money industry. When big money is involved people can get very carried away.
We cannot allow accusations and the charges that arise from them to restrain a player from plying his trade. Only a guilty verdict can be allowed to do that.
If De Belin is found guilty his court imposed punishment will probably be very severe. But if he’s found innocent what He’d be justified in suing the NRL for restraint of trade. I’d suggest challenging the validity of the stand down through the courts right now if I were him.
We cannot allow De Belin’s stand down to stand.
We can only punish players for crimes once they have been found guilty of them or we are no better than a mob encouraging the tyranny of a kangaroo court.