Yesterday it was confirmed by the Dragons that prop Paul Vaughan would be sacked following a party at his home on the weekend, which broke COVID-19 regulations.
Plenty has been written on this topic so far, but I decided to pen this because of how angry this breach and the behaviour of those involved has made me.
The decision by Vaughan to host this party and of the other players to attend speaks of a culture of entitled men, who not only think that they are above NRL rules but also rules imposed by the NSW Government.
Their behaviour demonstrated a lack of respect for their club, their fans, the other players involved in the NRL, the administrators at the NRL, and people across the country who are subject to lockdowns right now.
Players can be fined for their behaviour and will be subject to harsh words from their CEO and the NRL, but this is absolutely not enough.
How do we give these players a reality check? I don’t necessarily mean fining them more money, or banning them for more games, but some understanding about how privileged and lucky they are to still be playing footy when so many people have had their jobs impacted because of the pandemic.
You look at the list of players involved and wonder how some of them don’t know better at this point.
Think about Corey Norman, who was fined $50,000 for his involvement.
This is a player who has been told that he is not wanted at the Red V next year. Instead of working hard and focusing on where his next contract is coming from, he decides to go to a party.
I would be extremely surprised if this didn’t mark the end of Norman’s career. Would you want him at your club?
Then there’s Jack de Belin, who has only just returned to the game after nearly three years, following confirmation from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that the remaining sexual assault charges against him had been withdrawn.
To make it clear, on five of the six charges levelled against de Belin, two juries were unable to reach a conclusion.
On his return, de Belin spoke about the support club had shown him throughout the period. He received a standing ovation from some fans when he ran onto the field for his first game. Some even speculated that he should be in the conversation for selection for the NSW Blues.
After all the support the Dragons have shown him, including financially, this is how he repays them? Not only by attending a party which broke NSW and NRL protocols, but then hiding under a bed when police arrived trying to cover up his attendance (he later turned himself in).
I know what the argument in response to this piece will be: that compared to other discretions committed by players that this is small fries. I can absolutely understand that perspective, which is why helping these players to understand their privilege is the first step.
It’s not about punitive punishment, but rather making a meaningful change.
In the case of Vaughan, he has been sacked. But how effective is this punishment if another club makes the decision to sign him immediately? This has always been the challenge with player misbehaviour; the tough stance once club takes is immediately undermined if another club deems that player valuable enough to sign.
St George Illawarra have an opportunity to make meaningful change with the other players. The hardest conversation will be with their fellow players, who were not at the party. Were those players not invited? Were they brave enough to speak out and say that the party would be a breach? Are these players just not part of the ‘in group’? These are details we may never know.
How do the ‘party crew’ explain their actions? How does the team move forward given the lack of trust?
Perhaps the starting point is a conversation between the playing group and the coaching staff about the standards they expect of each other. Might I suggest that trust and commitment would be a good place to start.