Like many in this nation, I’m a sports fan. As a Queenslander I grew up with Rugby League. Queensland was a Rugby League state. Rugby Union got a bit of a look-in but more a Private School thing, League was the main event. As a kid, we didn’t have a team in the big League down south so many of us would support where a lot of our players went, for me that was Canberra. I still remember the excitement when we got our own team in the Brisbane Bronco’s.

Over the past few years I have slowly turned away from the game. The off-field dramas have just continued unabated, regardless of how many times we hear “The NRL is taking seriously…”, it just doesn’t change. Worse, it depends on how much of a ‘star’ or ‘potential star’ the player is as to how much their poor behaviour, be it assault, drink driving, drunken stupidity, you name it.

We are expected to buy the whole mate-ship line, until of course a club decides they can’t afford to keep one of their ‘club warriors’. Yet, when it comes to player support, behaviour of players, we are supposed to be ‘fans’ of the ‘club’. Support the ‘club’ – not the business. How many times have you heard a sports journo say about a badly-behaved player, “Oh just a young lad, doing what other young lads his age are doing”?

Umm No. In fact, that ‘young lad’ is most likely a very highly paid ‘employee’ and it would not be acceptable in any other ‘business’. I’m sick of the NRL trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are either a modern business or they are not?

This de Belin rape allegation is the final straw for me. I am not going to repeat any detail of what the Police are alleging as I don’t want to inadvertently stress anyone who is reading this who may have been the victim of rape or serious sexual assault. If you can stomach it, the most detailed report was done by Shannon Tonkin of the Illawarra Mercury, “New details of Dragons player Jack De Belin's rape allegation revealed”.

For a sport that has had a conga-line of players over the years accused (some innocently, many guilty) of anti-social behaviour, particularly treating women badly, this one stands out.

Recent times, as in last 12 months mind you, NRL have had Matt Lodge welcomed back onto the field after assault, Jarryd Hayne accused of (seriously nasty) sexual assault, Ben Barba ‘finally’ dumped after a domestic violence incident at a casino and now Jack de Belin gang rape allegations and these are only the ones we know about?!

To be brutally frank, I hope Jack de Belin is innocent. As I will be honest with you. I’m a pretty hardened old bird, but, I was sickened to my stomach and actually cried reading the detail of what police are alleging de Belin and his mate did to this poor young woman. The thought that anyone who could be capable of what is alleged, particularly someone that probably has thousands of young kids yelling and screaming in support of him at the footy ground or running around the backyard pretending to be him just sickens me. Not to mention he has a young wife at home who is currently pregnant. So best case scenario is he is just like many entitled sporting blokes before him who just can’t keep it in his pants. That is still hard for his wife to cop, but nothing compared to if he is found guilty of what he is accused of.

The fact the NRL has not suspended him is what has pushed me over the edge.

Before you all start screaming “innocent until proven guilty” let me explain…

In most modern organisations, particularly large ones with a public face. It is usually written into contracts where any employee who is faced with serious Criminal charges they will be stood down on leave – either paid or unpaid, depending on their employment status – until a court makes a decision. This standard does not bias the court. It is a flat rule and being as such does not colour the innocence or guilt of the accused in any way shape or form.

In fact, many of those sports journo’s who sportsplain away the ‘just boys being boys’ bad behaviour would have this happen in their own organisations should they ever be charged with a serious crime, as a TV station for example just does not want their face on a screen regularly reminding the public that this bloke could be a rapist, it is not good PR. They want it out of the news and out of people’s minds until the court case is over.

A perfect example is this week. The NRL had their All Stars game on last night. With the Indigenous All Stars vs New Zealand Maori All Stars, something that should have been celebrated. Even more so with the women’s teams also competing. This is what Rugby League fans should have been talking getting hyped up about. Instead, too many were discussing whether Jack de Belin should be suspended or not and for many women, they were sitting back thinking – and saying – “yeah, well that zero tolerance of violence against women the NRL were trumpeting last week didn’t take long to be tossed out the window”. IF the NRL had stood him down as soon as charges were laid, the focus would have been on NRL All Stars alone. That would have been a better ‘business’ decision.

These organisations also have a duty of care to their employees. Constantly putting them in front of the public where they could be faced with a barrage of abuse when potentially innocent of charges is a stress no employee could handle month after month – which as we know, court proceedings can take. How an employee is supposed to still do their job to the best of their ability with serious charges like de Belin is facing having over their heads week in week out would be an incredible amount of stress, both on him and his family. The NRL may say, nothing to see here until Court makes a decision, but viewing public  and fans at footy grounds can’t unhear or unsee the allegations and every single time he laces up his boots and runs out on the field, they will be reminded. IF he is innocent, he will be seeing those faces of disgust, he will be hearing nasty and abusive calls. So will his family.

St George Illawarra Dragons and the NSW Origin team might be thinking they are doing him a favour letting him play, but they are not. More like they just want to keep a talented player on the field. IF they honestly believe he is innocent of these charges and if indeed he is innocent and they care about him as a person, they would not be subjecting him to the public at large until the criminal case is decided.

IF the NRL want to be taken seriously, both as an organisation that really does want to stamp out violence against women in their game and a business they need to start acting like one.

A blanket rule of ‘suspension/leave’ for ALL players, regardless of status in game pending Court determinations of guilt or innocence for ANY player facing criminal charges would be the professional thing to do. Would not be an indicator of guilt or innocence. Would just be a smart decision that allows the NRL, Clubs and other players in those clubs to go about their business without the distraction of a player scandal AND gives the player themselves the private time and space to deal with potentially life-changing charges that could be hanging over their heads without the added mental stress of doing their day job in the public sphere.

I doubt the NRL will got this route. They rarely do. If past form is any indication their decision will be based on how powerful the club is, whether sponsors have invested time and effort into elevating a particular player into a ‘star’ or hell, even if NSW Origin think that particular player is imperative to them winning. Of course, a major sponsor whispering they are unhappy into NRL CEO Todd Greenberg’s ear also can be what a decision is based on, regardless of what is said publicly and I strongly suspect this might be the case with Mr Greenberg’s sudden decision to ‘potentially overhaul the code’s decade-long stance’?

I am sick of “Each case needs to be judged on its merits” coming from the NRL. A. Seriously pathetic how there is case after case and as a female, I’m sick to death of it. And B. maybe if they actually DIDN’T choose selectively as to in which case they would suspend or not suspend they would not only make life easier for themselves, but also for the players and fans. This each case business is what gets the NRL and the players in trouble. Every time this situation comes up people will refer to the Brett Stewart and Hazem El Masri cases where the players were suspended (and fined) and were found not guilty but in my opinion, that is also the NRL’s fault, they pretty much decided to punish a player along the lines of bringing the game into disrepute. This is not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about a blanket rule. This way there would be no pre-judging, it would just be a case of ‘mate, some serious stuff going on at the moment, best for you and the game and the NRL as a business if you take a breather until it is over’. Obviously IF the player is found guilty, well then the NRL can apply whatever fines or suspensions they wish, if not found guilty, well player got the breathing space to address the issue he is facing without any added distractions. How can that be a bad thing?

Until this culture in NRL is addressed and I mean seriously, until the NRL can decide if they are an  amateur sport or a professional business and until players themselves can stop acting like entitled little tossers that feel they should never have consequences for their actions, well, I’m outta here.

I see the AFLW and the sheer joy of the players on the field doing what they love. I see the women cricketers excelling, I see the skill and sportsmanship of a Sam Kerr, I see the passion on court of our netballers and the appreciation they have to finally be paid for that skill and effort. I then see the same rubbish – again – from the NRL.

So yeah, sorry, your over-paid and over-rated in comparison. Some NRL players are earning more in one month than most of these women I just mentioned are earning in a year and to be quite frank, that is pretty offensive.

I don’t want it to be this way. I’ve loved Rugby League since I was a little kid. I love the fact women are finally getting a look in. I know the game can be great to watch on field and I know the game can be good off field. From the work the Queensland FOGS have done over the years helping charities and mentoring Indigenous people and communities throughout Queensland with their sensational ARTIE (Achieving Results Through Indigenous Education) program to just recently watching North Queensland Cowboys players getting down and dirty physically helping others in their community during the devastating Townsville floods. I know the majority of players are not grubs, but hard-working guys who take their privileged position of being elite athletes seriously.

But as a woman and as a sports fan, I can no longer condone the NRL’s inaction when it comes to player behaviour off-field. I can no longer accept the excuses. I can no longer cop the unprofessionalism of the NRL as a governing body itself. I’m also sick to death of too many NRL sports journo’s trotting out the ‘boys will be boys’ vibe. I’m sick of the inconsistency in decision making. I am sick to death of being told over & over again that the NRL are addressing culture issues and this will change. It hasn’t changed.

I’m sorry NRL, it really is you.

PS. and I don’t think I will be the only fan breaking up with you this time round.
PSS. I will still support the womens rugyby league, but the men can get in the bin.

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