Josh Dugan: will the real NRL actually stand up? We all know they will not!

I read today that Josh Dugan, a player recently fired by the Canberra Raiders and then inexplicably rehired by the St George Dragons, feels like he was hardly done by by the Canberra Raiders when they fired him.

In case you missed them, here are some of Josh Dugan’s comments published in the media:

He ‘‘didn’t really get too much of a chance to say anything,’’ as the Raiders were deciding whether to sack him.

He wasn’t treated fairly and ‘‘that’s on the NRL, and that’s on the Raiders’’.

He and Blake Ferguson’s choice to have a rooftop drinking session instead of going to recovery was ‘‘just two mates kicking back, having a drink and that’s all there is to it.’’

He did the right thing by choosing not to attend training because ‘‘both me and Blake were a bit drunk, we felt if we went to recovery it would’ve been worse than missing a half hour swim.’’

He was ‘‘thrown on the scrap heap and I wasn’t too happy about it.’’

So what do we glean from all of this? Obviously he does not think that he did anything wrong. Indeed he has the gall to defend his behaviour and therein lies my angst. I am a Canberra Raiders fan and have been since 1985: I continue to be astonished that he was allowed to remain in the game let alone rejoin a competing club some 4 weeks after he was sacked.

To add insult to injury whilst his removal is not “on” the NRL as Dugan suggests the fact that he remains in the game and obvious does not understand the gravity of his actions absolutely is “ON” the NRL. Given that the objective facts reported in the papers today do not go anywhere near supporting his delusions one wonders what steps will the NRL take to deal with said delusions?

Before I posit an answer, here are some of the objective facts:

Where Dugan suggest he was not allowed to speak in his defence he ignores that he was invited to a board meeting to plead his case but did not deign to attend the meeting.

Where Dugan suggests that the incident was nothing more than a couple of mates kicking back and having a drink, it has been widely reported that the drinking incident was the final straw in a long line of behavioural incidents. Indeed, as reported today, the Raiders sent a dossier of incidents to the NRL containing details of 18 infringements, five of which involved police.

In the face of those objective facts the NRL still deigned to allow him to remain in the game. That is entirely up to them obviously but given the delusions of the man that the NRL have inexplicably sought to protect in circumstances where they have not protected others (Carney and Monaghan from the same club in fact) and the damage that this fiasco continues to do to the game: should they now step in and actually take further action?

I think they absolutely should look at Dugan’s continued place in the game. His conduct before and at the time of his sacking from the Raiders was frankly bad enough BUT his absolute lack of contrition for his actions, delusion or otherwise, has to warrant action by the NRL. Any fair minded supporter of the game must be thinking the same thing: if nothing else because of the manifest injustice that has been done in not punishing Dugan as they did others in similar circumstances. AND lets not forget the damage this is doing to the game.

Of course we all know the NRL will do nothing: Dugan is a newly anointed State of Origin star and puts bums on seats and is, it would seem, a protected species. One wonders what it will actually take for the NRL to do something about Dugan’s conduct and how much more damage he will do to the game in the meantime.

Kurtley Beale: can I have his employment contract? Or that of any “sportstar” for that matter?

I have watched with a mix of astonishment and bemusement at the latest round of drama that seems to follow Australian Rugby Union player Kurtley Beale wherever he goes. For those who missed the drama of the week was Beale and is oft partner in crime, James O’Connor, being caught at a hamburger restaurant at 4am in the aftermath of the Melbourne Rebels’ defeat by the British and Irish Lions on Tuesday night. There was, apparently, no alcohol involved but they were still out eating a hamburger at 4am four days before they were due to play in a test match.

Kurtley Beales other indiscretions have been well documented but are worth rementioning: an assault charge that was settled at mediation, punching two of his (now former) teammates whilst on tour with his (also now former) Super Rugby franchise and then a breach of strict alcohol rules are the known behavioural issues that have faced Beale in the last 18 months. I am all for people being given second chances and now that Beale is seemingly on his fifth chance with the ARU I have had a moment of pause to consider this question: if Beale was employed by anyone other than the Australian Rugby Union would he still be employed?

I have already written in an earlier blog about the special treatment received (having both positive and negative impacts on them) in the context of poor behaviour. I have also written about the presumption of innocence and how important it is to remember that presumption in the context of the regular imbroglios sports stars seem to find themselves presently.

All that said, I think it is pretty obvious that the answer to the question posed in the preceding is a resounding “NO”. Let’s put Beale’s conduct in the context of someone who works in a professional context. I am happy to use myself as the guinea pig here: I work for a large firm in the city. My working hours are malleable but are generally between 7:45am and 6:30pm with a couple of days of work on weekends a month the norm. I have a team of 11 people that work for me and sit in a broader team of about 70 people. I am bound by a contract of employment with my employer that regulates my conduct during work hours and also, as is standard, requires me to follow the lawful directions of my employer.

Starting then with the obvious, I can never recall any occasion during my 15 year career in the work force where I have had moment to be out until 4am and then stop to grab a burger on a work night? Perhaps on the way to work before a large mediation or if I have a heap of work on maybe but not because I felt like going out and meeting up with some mates. How could any professional function in their job after, obviously, no sleep the night before.

The assault charge is a difficult one: I am fairly sure that my employer, or any employer in the professional work force, would be extremely displeased with an employee being charged with assault. I am unsure as to whether such a scenario would be grounds for immediate dismissal but I am pretty sure the said employee would be at least given a formal warning.

Then we turn to the combination of punching a fellow team mate and then ignoring a direction not to drink: can anyone think of any context in which an employee in a professional context would survive with his or her job intact after having a drunken brawl with two of his / her colleagues? I am pretty sure if I punched one of my fellow directors and one of the partners (given that G Delve was captain of the team at the time) on a boozy night out I would not be receiving just a warning: my employment would be terminated. If, however, I did survive and receive a warning on the condition that my employment would continue on the proviso that I not break the team rules again then surely breaking said rules would mean that I would be terminated and have to find a new job wouldn’t it? I have no doubt it would.

Sportstars are regularly crying that we (being the fans and the media) do not “understand how much pressure they are under”. Forgive me for not giving any sympathy: after all said sportstars are paid to play sport. The other regular refrain from sportstars and their apologists are that they are held to a higher standard because of the “celebrity” and that is unfair. With all due respect to those who push that argument: how can you say that when, in fact, it would appear based the available evidence that sportstars are held to a lower standard by their employers than anyone else who had a professional job in this country?

My gripe here is not with Kurtley Beale and his mate O’Connor: I am not surprised that they were caught out (again). My gripe is with the spinelessness of their employers. Actually, it is worth noting that my gripe is not just with the ARU at this juncture because afterall we have, in recent times also had the displeasure of seeing the following conduct rewarded with continued employment (by the governing body of the game):

1. Semi-regular abuse of opposing players, abuse of journalists doing their job and punching an opposing player (David Warner); and
2. Complete and open disregard for the authority of one’s employer, failing to follow a direction not to drink alcohol before training and sending a photographic message to one’s coach of your contempt for him (Josh Dugan).

The governing bodies of the sports we love are doing themselves and those that they employ who do the right thing a disservice by not handling these matters like any other employer would. How will players who behave badly or, indeed, just stupidly ever learn their lesson if they are not punished as someone in everyday life would be? A semi-regular refrain from those in sport is that they just want to be treated like regular every day people but they can not have their metaphorical cake and eat it to; viz., if they want to be treated like everyone else they also must be treated like everyone else when it comes to their employment and NOT with the special treatment they seem to presently receive.

I am not talking about forcing people out of sport because they make a mistake here and I am a massive believer of second chances in life. Getting a second chance though comes with it learning from ones mistakes and I question how someone receiving the special treatment when it comes to appointment that sportstars do will ever learn from their mistakes? Getting caught out at 4am 4 days before a test match indicates that Kurtley Beale has not learned his lesson.

All that said: how good would it be to be on the same sort of contract that Beale and others must be on which entitles them to, seemingly, do whatever they want whenever they want without thought to the consequences? I wonder where I can get one of them?

Player Behaviour: Ferguson, Dugan, Tamou, Warner and the lament of a fan

The events of today in Rugby League in Australia have again led to a player being suspended from a representative game and have his contract, for all intents and purposes, ripped up (I am aware that his registration has been suspended and not cancelled but lets be honest, that is the next step). The punishment meted out on Blake Ferguson tonight, it must be noted, is as a result of a series of breaches of the rules surrounding player contracts regarding alcohol and bringing the game into disrepute. Tonight’s incident was just the straw that broke the camel’s back it seems.

If the ultimate outcome hypothesised tonight, that Blake Ferguson will be out of a Canberra Raiders jersey for at least the rest of the season, becomes a reality then the issue of player behaviour will leave the Canberra Raiders without, arguably, their two best players for the remainder of the season. I am a Canberra Raiders fan and as a fan of this proud club that fact leaves me feeling more than a little let down.

Add to that the fact that the other Canberra Raiders player to have his contract terminated this season is already playing rugby league for another club and, apparently, is about to rewarded with a multi-million dollar contract and my anger at the state that the conduct of these two players has left my club in rises.

Just to focus on the impact that player behaviour is having on the Canberra Raiders though it short sighted in the extreme though. The indefinite suspension of Blake Ferguson is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad player behaviour this season. Indeed until the Ferguson issue many thought the problems with player behaviour in the NRL had reached their epoch with the dangerous driving and unlicensed driving charges laid against James Tamou last week. I am sad to concede that this week’s events have raised the spectre of player behaviour to a whole new level.

The events of last week though also show that the issue of player behaviour is NOT isolated to the NRL. David Warner’s alcohol fuelled punch of an opponent should leave watchers of sport in no doubt that it is not just the NRL that has a problem.

Now many will say that to suggest that a particular sporting code has a problem because of the conduct of a few is a sweeping statement that is ill considered and ought not be made. However, I am not just saying that: the facts indicate a much worse scenario; that sport (in general) in Australia has problems with player behaviour. I have mentioned four examples from a veritable smorgasbord of conduct that goes to this point. If you need any further convincing you can easily add the drugs in sport scandals that are going in the AFL and the NRL, the issues had by the St Kilda AFL club a couple of years ago and the ongoing poor conduct of Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane in Rugby Union to the list of conduct that even to a sight impaired observer must be indicative of a broader problem.

I think it can be plainly stated, and I am not going to shy from saying, that there is a problem with behaviour in the ranks of professional sportsmen in this country. As a fan of sport I openly lament that the conduct of whom I believe to still be a few in a minority has such a broad impact on the standing of the whole of codes of sport and indeed sport in general but that is where I think we are at at the moment.

As a sports fan I have heard every excuse under the sun for poor player conduct from the players have too much spare time on their hands through to it is society’s fault for placing these young men on pedestals. I am sick to the back teeth of the excuses: just because players have a massive disposable wealth, only work a couple of days a week and are treated like gods does mean that they can, without penalty, break the law and last time I checked kids are still taught at school that breaking the law is wrong.

That fact gets me to the second lament of this post: have we as a society moved so far that the players of our sports actually do not believe that the law applies to them? I heard a very interesting interview with the player welfare officer from the Parramatta Eels on the weekend (on ABC Grandstand) in which he mentioned that getting young players to actually get a license, despite the often high powered cars they drive at least to and from training, was a massive problem for clubs. If it takes a player welfare officer to ask for a copy of the license of each player to start the process of actually getting these 18-25 year old men their first license is that not indicative of a disregard for rules and the law that is both alarming and also obviously has the potential to escalate into incidents such as those of yesterday evening?

I have no solutions that have not already been raised or that are not obvious. The fact is though that if these young men do not respect the basic laws of the land such as having a license to drive a motor vehicle will any of the solutions work? I am a strong advocate of a duel approach of holding all but money for the bare essentials in trust for young players until they are retired from the game coupled with forcing young players to have a job outside of the sport they play. Whether this would have the effect of stopping the players breaking the law I do not know. What I do know that making the players live on $50K a year out of their contract surely would make it less likely that they would on the grog on Sunday night before going into State of Origin camp, for example.

Sport in this country has problems and player behaviour is right at the forefront of those problems. With competition for kids activities never stronger from the likes of Apple, Nintendo and the like why would an unknowing parent chose to place their child into an environment as obviously troubled as one of the sporting codes when they can stay at home fully supervised? I know that is an extreme example but can anyone tell me that is not where we are heading?

The fact that things seem to be heading that way is an abomination and an affront to the 99% of sportsmen who work extremely hard to play the games that they love and who do not wantonly break the laws of this country. It is those players for whom I lament the state of the games they play because all of the good that they do is washed away by the conduct of a few. It is easy to forget that almost 250 players took the field in the NRL at the weekend and only 1 has been suspended indefinitely because of his conduct off the field at the end of said weekend.

So I leave this post with a challenge for readers: whilst we, as sport fans are lamenting another case of poor player conduct bringing one of the games we love into disrepute, do not forget the exemplary conduct of those many many players who do conduct themselves in a manner befitting their station in life. To forget such conduct means that sport in this country could find itself in serious trouble sooner rather than later!