This article first appeared on ABC Online on 15/5/09. Click here for the original. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/05/15/2571082.htm
As Matthew Johns faces the music for his role in one of the many group sex scandals that has rocked rugby league, and Channel 9 stands him down as a network personality, it’s time to look at who should really take ultimate responsibility for the fast disintegrating code of rugby league.
As revealed by the Four Corners report, and as admitted by Johns himself, he was only one of the many individuals involved in the group sex episode where up to 12 players and staff witnessed the act. Why then, has only one of these men publically apologised to the woman? Why, in the face of public disgust and a diminishing faith in the Rugby League code is the silence as deafening as it was in 2002?
Possibly because many of those involved in this and other group sex scandals over the past decade still believe they did nothing wrong as according to the law, they didn’t. As Johns has repeatedly stated, the woman at the centre of the scandal was “a willing participant”. What those involved fail to realise (although Johns clearly understands now), is that consent and willing participation does not always equal lifelong happiness. Most of us remember consenting to something that caused us grief or shame. We all, at sometime in our lives, have regretted participating in an act because our involvement left us emotionally raw or compromised. Its life and that’s how we learn.
Most of us get over it quickly due to the trivial nature of the episode and the absence of psychological damage. The incidents described both by Johns and the woman however, involved youth, inexperience, celebrity and sexual extremism facilitating the potential for psychological damage … not only for the woman, but for all parties involved.
The sexual experience as a ‘rite of passage’ is one given much weight in our society, and rightly so. Our early sexual encounters, based as they are around our often fragile sense of self, can be life affirming or life destroying and create a template for intimacy that extends throughout our lives. They can indeed, form who we are, and a sense of responsibility for both ourselves and others is important during early adult sexual adventure.
The extreme nature of the NRL’s group sex ‘bonding’ incidents has clearly impacted greatly on the lives of many. The naïve young woman involved in the Johns’ incident, a woman described as ‘unworldly’ by the investigating police officer, has been damaged for life. Numerous other unnamed women…women unworldly yet curious, have been equally damaged through their naïve, yet legal willing participation.
Yet what of the young men? What of the players, many also in their teens, who have had their lives defined by a culture that clearly sanctions this style of behaviour? While our immediate gut reaction is to seek out and humiliate the players involved, the full force of our wrath must go to the parents of the Rugby League family – the coaches, managers, trainers, administrators and media who have tolerated and possibly facilitated this ‘culture of ‘irresponsibility’ for decades.
The coaches, trainers and administrators of the game have known about this type of ‘bonding’ behaviour for decades. These parents of the Rugby League family, while not breaking the law, have shown immense disrespect towards their players and the women these players meet. Legal issues aside, it’s the impact these encounters have on the young men in their care – men who should be mentored into positions of social responsibility, that is the important issue.
A $100,000 fine imposed on the Manly club for their alcohol-fueled season launch won’t stop it happening again. Excluding the team from the competition for a year however, and sacking the officials who created the event, may help change the culture.
Fining any club for the extreme pack mentality of their players won’t suddenly make for sexually responsible young men. Mass sacking of the coaches and administrators who allowed this behaviour to occur may help build lasting change.
Even the players, those like Hasim El Masri who espouse a socially responsible position for players and fans, could stage their own ‘action’ to rid the game of the leaders who allow pack-mentality behavior to occur.
To renew our faith in Rugby League, change needs to be swift and brutal. It needs to target the leaders who have built the culture and who profit from it, not the players who are themselves the victims of it. . Above all, it needs to implant new parents to the Rugby League family, parents who hold strong their responsibility to build outstanding men who can hold their heads up as players and role models.