Never one to miss an opportunity to criticise the Parramatta Eels, earlier this week Ray Hadley called the club a ‘zoo’ with no discipline.
(In that same interview, Hadley also called Eels CEO Jim Sarantinos ‘Jim Alphabet’ but I’ll leave that alone because casual racism is a topic for another day.)
Hadley’s comments were in response to the allegations levelled at Eels playmaker Dylan Brown, who was arrested and charged with five counts of sexual touching last Saturday night.
On Wednesday, Brown fronted court where his matter was mentioned. His lawyer stated the evidence did not support the five instances of sexual touching without consent. The matter has now been adjourned and will be mentioned again on June 28.
Brown’s alleged behaviour is extremely disappointing, but Hadley’s view is far too narrow.
Attend any pub, club or nightclub and this sort of behaviour takes place every weekend. This type of behaviour, whilst concerning, is at the lower end of the spectrum, but it can escalate over time.
While a disrespect of women doesn’t always result in violence, all violence against women begins with disrespect so also relevant to this conversation are some of the shocking statistics about sexual and domestic violence in this country.
Just because the behaviour is not out of the ordinary, it does not make the behaviour acceptable; quite the contrary. If the Eels are a ‘zoo’, then my view is this is reflective of the broader ‘zoo’ in which all of us live in every day.
So what do we do about it and what is the NRL’s role?
I know for certain all NRL players (and players in the lower grades) receive plenty of education about a wide range of topics including respectful relationships, substance abuse and the competition’s code of conduct.
The average NRL player will receive more training on these topics than most other Australian adults. But with each club providing care to between 300-400 athletes, it is almost inevitable that some will slip through the cracks or simply, do the wrong thing.
Education is part of the solution, but it will never completely solve the problem.
We live in a world where athletes are under more scrutiny than ever. Almost every person has become a ‘newsbreaker’ courtesy of the cameras on our mobile phones.
This reality is something our players need to understand and either accept or choose another profession. It’s irrelevant to me whether it’s fair or not because that won’t change people filming athletes.
Some of those people unfortunately have ulterior motives. This is now part of the job, which they are compensated for, handsomely.
This notoriety can result in several things. It can mean players are grabbed and touched when they are in public. Potentially some of our male and female players are flooded with messages from eager fans on social media, some of which are of a sexual nature.
Some of the younger players in the NRL may not have the maturity to handle this appropriately and for some, they may have a mistaken view that they are invincible.
But they are not. Because every single person has the right to exist in public spaces without being touched without their consent.
In most cases, our players are adults and they need to be accountable for their actions.
That’s why minders are not the answer either. Because it’s not just about ‘protecting’ the players, it is about helping them develop into capable and functional human beings. Giving them minders again absolves them of responsibility and only kicks challenging conversations down the road to when the players retire and are no longer as protected by their clubs (or these minders).
Brown will also be held accountable for his actions and indeed already has.
He will have to face his teammates. Whilst there was not a ‘formal’ ban placed on the players going out during the bye weekend, there was an agreement between the group to ‘lay low’. Brown will need to explain why he made the decision not to.
Brown will also face more formal consequences. The legal process will continue and it’s my view that he should be sanctioned by the Eels and the NRL regardless of the outcome of the court case for bringing the game into disrepute. These sanctions will no doubt include a financial penalty.
Brown will also spend time on the sidelines and has also been stood down by the NRL under its no fault stand down policy. He will be unable to play until he receives further clearance from the NRL.
When the NRL introduced the ‘No Fault Stand Down’ Policy, it was to help address situations like this. The NRL used its discretion to stand down Brown, as the charges levelled against him do not carry a maximum jail sentence of 11 years, which is when the policy kicks in.
Given this decision and the implication of a tough stance on offences involving women, perhaps the policy needs to change to cover offences with less jail time.
But it’s not just about punishment, because part of the process must be rehabilitation and giving Brown the opportunity to make some changes because at the very least he went against the wishes of his teammates and has brought unnecessary attention on the club.
There are plenty of players in the NRL over the last decade that have misbehaved in a similar way to Brown. This is a chance for him to learn, grow and make some changes; or perhaps to find another job.
Time will tell which path he chooses.