On player behaviour: time for some credit where it is due

The question of the behaviour of sportsmen has been a topic of regular comment on this blog.  I have bemoaned the lowering of standards of behaviour and praised those clubs and codes prepared to make a statement about such behaviour.  I have commented on domestic violence and sportsmen and the massive double standard that seems to pervade such cases.  In the interests of, therefore, fairness it is important also recognise when a player of sport conducts himself in a positive way.

Quade Cooper and his conduct in recent weeks has been nothing short of exemplary and deserves our acclamation.  Simply, has there been a player under more scrutiny from the fans and the pundits in recent weeks? The focus of attention has been on Cooper because of the ongoing saga of his selection or otherwise in the Wallabies squad to face the British and Irish Lions.  During the totality of the recent weeks when all and sundry have been talking about whether he would be selected and, more particularly, the “feud” with Robbie Deans he has remained respectful and honest in his work with the media and has continued to play solid, if not error free, rugby.  
If the story, and this blog, ended here such conduct would still be worthy of acclamation particularly in light of where Cooper was behaviour wise last year.  Certainly under more scrutiny now than ever before his “toxic culture” comments and certainly baited by some quarters in the press he has kept his mouth shut and clearly has shown that he has learned from his previous falls.  However: this is only half the story. 
It has now been made official that he will not be in said Wallabies squad to face the British and Irish Lions.  I have commented vociferously about that on twitter and will let my twitter comments and lack of future attendance at Wallabies games speak for themselves in that regard.  
Since the announcement that Cooper was not to be selected in the Wallabies squad he has conducted himself in a manner, in my view, beyond reproach and deserving of acclaim.  His interviews about this topic, whilst others have bayed for Deans’ blood, have been direct and honest without bring himself or the game into disrepute.  More particularly, when faced with an abusive “fan” yesterday evening in a pub in the suburbs of Brisbane and doused with a full beer, he declined to take the first punch and declined to get involved in a physical confrontation. 
Evidence from years past suggest that this is not the approach that Cooper would have taken previously and it is the maturity shown in not rising to the bait of a physical altercation having just had his British and Irish Lions dream shattered that must now impress those who previously have been “haters” of the person Cooper is without knowing him other than to read about him in the paper or watch him play the beautiful game.  
We are quick to jump all over the players of sport that we watch when they make a mistake.  We are less swift to give them the acclaim they warrant when they conduct themselves in the right way and, indeed, show that they have learned from the past.  
Well done Q Cooper: for how you have conducted yourself in the face of the scrutiny surrounding the “Deans feud” and for your conduct in declining to take the first punch.  I, for one, salute you!  

The Warner Controversy: where to from here?

Cricket news in this part of the world, thankfully given England’s dismantling of the Black Caps at Lords, has been all about David Warner and his spat in social media with two of Australia’s most respected cricket journalists: Malcolm Conn and Robert Craddock. I do not intend to revisit what was said: if you are a cricket fan you have read the exchange. If you are a Warner apologist you have already congratulated him on “sticking it up the journos” (aside: my favourite reply was “what would they know, they have never walked in your shoes” … are you kidding: the bloke gets paid to play cricket something the mere mortals among us would do for free). If you are on the side of the journalists you are bemoaning Warner’s conduct and declaring his captaincy prospects dead and buried. Most have taken a side and the less said about that the better.

What is important now that #warnergate has happened is to consider what the next steps are and how cricket in this country gets back to focusing on the upcoming Ashes and the return of the Ashes urn to its rightful place of residence in Australia.

Tomorrow is an important start to that process as Warner faces a charge against Rule 6 of CAs Code of Behaviour. For the uninitiated, Rule 6 provides:

Players and officials must not at any time engage in behaviour unbecoming to a representative player or official that could (a) bring them or the game of cricket into disrepute or (b) be harmful to the interests of cricket…this rule applies at all times where the unbecoming behaviour involves the player being involved in public comment or comment to or in the media.

There are various punishments available to the CA Senior Code of Behaviour Commissioner, The Hon. Justice Gordon Lewis AM, who will hear the case from a fine through to a reprimand and ultimately a suspension.

It seems difficult to argue that the conduct of Warner, no matter what side of the fence I have alluded to above one sits, is not in breach of Rule 6. As a minimum, Warner’s conduct must have been conduct banned by Rule 6(b) inasmuch as it can not be in the interests of cricket for a current player to abuse two of the most senior journalists in the game for the having the temerity to have an opinion. The question therefore becomes one of penalty and what Warner can put to the Commissioner as a plea in mitigation.

Herein, I think, lies a major problem for Warner. He has, despite his relative lack of time in the top flight of the game (19 test matches), been involved in a series of unseemly on field incidents of what could be best be described as sledging but really, even from a one eyed Australian fan, was tantamount to abuse. The most obvious of such incidents have occurred against India in both of the most recent home and away series. Even in a losing, Warner’s approach to relations with players from opponent teams seems to be “abuse first and ask questions later”.

I know regular readers of this blog will say that I have prejudged Warner here and that my general lack of, for want of a better term, endearment for the play of Warner is colouring my judgment here. Frankly, it may well be the case that I am harder on Warner than I would be on a player that I actually enjoyed watching play the game. I know this is incongruous given the alleged entertainment value that Warner brings to the game BUT the fact is that the conduct of Warner on the field is a major part of why I do not like watching him play.

Now is an opportunity for Cricket Australia to give guidance to a young player who is arguably at a career crossroad: having gone from being considered to be a captain in waiting no less than 3 months all of a sudden that carrot seems to be gone. That fact added to a start of a career where the numbers (1263 runs in 19 tests at an average of less than 40 AND 1124 runs in 38 ODIs at an average of 30) do not match hype means that Cricket Australia must tread carefully. Equally, Warner’s conduct can not go unpunished: indeed the conduct of recent times, including the sledging noted above, is a major part of the make up of Warner, or his ego, that needs to be worked out of his game and needs to be worked out his game right now.

Whatever the penalty, and given the penalties recently handed out for failing to answer a questionnaire that penalty must involve a suspension, now has to be the time that someone like a Rod Marsh or Andy Bichel, both selectors and massively respected in the game, tell Warner to shut up and let his bat do the talking.

I, for one, will be watching the outcome of the hearing tomorrow with interest and, more particularly, be closely examining Warner’s response to see if once again his ego is his guide or he has taken a moment of pause and learned the error of his ways, at least in the short term.

The issue of player behaviour: the issue just keeps coming back

The issue of player behaviour has again reared its ugly head in Australia with the unseemly split between Josh Dugan and the Canberra Raiders and Kurtley Beale’s fight night in South Africa dominating the sporting headlines.

To say that I am, as a fan, exasperated with the conduct of these players is an understatement. This is only a short post to reconfirm the view that I have tweeted: the best punishment for these players has to be a combination of ripping up their contract, getting them help and making them work in a minimum wage job for a minimum of 12 months before they are allowed to be re-registered in the relevant competition.

This appears to have been an approach that worked with Todd Carney when he was sacked by the Raiders and ended up working in Atherton whilst playing park football.

These players should walk in the shoes of their fans for 12 months and then we will see if they continue to respect the game that they play and the fans that support them week in week out.

In the meantime: what follows are links to my previous posts on the question of player behaviour. Hope you enjoy and in the meantime any feedback or comments you have on this issue will be appreciated and replied to.

https://shumpty77.com/2012/06/04/what-ever-happened-to-the-umpires-always-right-a-sports-fans-lament/

https://shumpty77.com/2012/06/13/what-ever-happened-to-the-umpires-always-right-an-addendum/

https://shumpty77.com/2012/06/19/nalbandian-player-behaviour-in-the-spotlight-again/

https://shumpty77.com/2012/06/21/what-to-do-with-players-accused-of-criminal-conduct-to-play-or-not-play-is-that-question/

What to do with players accused of criminal conduct: to play or not play … is that the question?

Jesse Stringer’s assault charge and subsequent suspension from all Senior AFL activities for the remainder of the year has pushed the Australian Rugby Union’s decision to select Kurtley Beale for this weekend’s test match against Wales to the forefront of the minds of most sports followers this week.

The conundrum of allowing a player of any code accused, but not convicted, of a crime to play at the highest level of their code is not a new one albeit it is one that in the digital age in which we live more focus than ever before is placed on.

This is not a problem that is going to go away: simply put the sportstars of today are becoming younger and, whilst all conduct can not be talked away as juvenile hijinks or just “boys being boys”, young men (and women) are the demographic most likely to end up in some form of trouble with the law when alcohol is involved. 

In recent times we have seen a variety of approaches from clubs and the administrators of those clubs to allegations of inappropriate conduct.   Variously across the codes and in no particular order, some examples are:

  • Neville Costigan being dismissed by the Brisbane Broncos after he was charged with drink driving (but before he was convicted).
  • Todd Carney having his contract terminated and being deregistered from the NRL (by the Canberra Raiders) for urinating on a patron at a Canberra nightclub amidst allegations of drunk and reckless driving (among other things).
  • St Kilda player Andrew Lovett having his contract terminated after being charged with rape, a charge he was ultimately acquitted of.
  • Brett Stewart being removed as the “face of rugby league” and stood down for a period following allegations (ultimately found to be fabricated) of sexual assault.
  • Robert Lui being released from his contract with the West Tigers after being charged with various counts of assault against his partner.
  • Robert Lui, again, being suspended from playing rugby league for a year after being found guilty of assault against his partner.
  • Isaac Gordan being suspended by the NRL for 9 matches as a result of being charged over a domestic violence incident.
  • Nick D’arcy being removed from the 2008 Olympic team after being charged (and before his guilty plea) with assault having being involved a brawl with a former male team-mate.
  • Jake Friend having his contract terminated after falling asleep whilst drunk in the back of a cab and failing to pay the fare (for which he was charged).
  • Brett Seymour being sacked by two separate clubs over uncharged alcohol fuelled misconduct.

This is a small sampler of the punishment meted out by clubs and administrators across a number of sports in recent years for questionable player behaviour.  I make no comment on the strength or weakness of the punishments given out above.  They are what they are.

In addition to the examples above, and I note that I do not purport to know all of the facts of either case, now Messrs Stringer and Beale find themselves before the Courts on assault charges.  In both cases alcohol was involved.  Indeed in the case of Stringer the drinking before the incident has consistently been described as a “marathon”.

When one traverses all of the cases noted above, the common element appears to be the involvement of alcohol.  Equally, it also must be noted that some of the “offenders” noted above are repeat “offenders”.  The travails of the likes of Messrs Carney, Friend, Seymour and Lui are not isolated incidents or one offs: the matters noted above are portions of ongoing conduct which, again, has been consistently alcohol fuelled.

Whilst sports fans lament the lack of a “punishment” for Beale’s alleged conduct, there seems to me to be two far greater concerns arising out of the Beale and Stringer cases.  They are:

  1. Why are the punishments previously meted out to players who have been charged with assault NOT (in addition to the usual deterrents) having a deterring effect?
  2. Is there an alcohol problem in sport?

For the latter question, the usual glib responses are “they are just young men having fun” and “the problem is not alcohol, it is people pestering the stars when they are just trying to have a quiet drink”.  I can not accept either premise: if you are not a sportstar you are not absolved from punishment if you are an idiot or abusive when you are drunk.  The alternate glib response is “but that is the way it has always been” also does not fly with me because community standards have changed since the days of listening to your sport of choice on the transistor radio.

My personal view (and I admit I have had my own problems with alcohol in the past) is that there is a problem with alcohol in sport.  Part of the problem is obvious and is that, unlike most 18-25 year olds going out for a night on the town who have to pull up when their funds run out, sportstars have an unlimited available spend when they go out.  Of course they, the sportstars, are going to get drunk: presented with an bottomless wallet wouldn’t you? 

The former question is one to which there is no answer other than the punishments being meted out are not having a deterrent effect.  Equally, even if they were, I wonder if a player full of their chosen liquid refreshment would even think of the consequences before they step over the line like the players in the examples set out above.    

That being the case, I do not think the question of whether a player charged with a crime should play for their team after being so charged is the right question.  As fans we need to be asking of the sportstars and the people who coach and administer the games we all love whether enough is being done at all levels to seek to stop the cycle of alcohol fuelled violence that continues to pervade our daily sports fixes.  I, for one, do not think enough is being done: the evidence that this is the case is available for all to see above and in the sports pages every day.

In the end of course, after all of the hypothesising above, we are still left with the scenario where two elite sportsmen have been charged with assault and one is playing for his country on the weekend while the other is sitting on the sidelines.  I am left to wonder: how many more assault charges there needs to be before the question I raise in the preceding paragraph is seriously considered?

Nalbandian: player behaviour in the spotlight again

Well it did not take long for another incident of player behaviour to be plastered across the airwaves and YouTube.  The David Nalbandian kick at the Queens Club Tournament on Monday (Australian time) was nothing short of woeful.  I do not wish to recount the events that lead to Nalbandian’s default: they have been dealt with enough in the media, both the mainstream and the blogosphere.

There are two things that I do want to comment on:

  1. Nalbandian’s “apology”; and
  2. Whether the likely penalty both fits the crime and is a big enough deterrent.

“Apology”

I use the word “apology” here loosely because, as seems to be the case with many sports people having been caught doing something wrong, the apology that followed the event is generally actually not one.  I have re-watched Nalbandian’s comments during the presentation at Queens and in the presser after and throughout it struck me that the occasions at which an apology was sought to be made by Nalbandian those attempts just looked insincere and, frankly, staged.

More to the point however, even if the “apology” was a genuine one, it was tarnished by Nalbandian’s vociferous attack on officials.  Unfortunately, this approach seems have become par for the course for sports people faced with an enquiry into their own conduct.  At a time when showing some humility and accepting ones fault, sports people now just seem to deflect fault.

The Penalty

Setting aside the police investigation that is presently underway, it looks likely that the penalties that Nalbandian is likely to suffer as a result of his misconduct will be limited to a pecuniary penalty of $72,000 made up of the prize money he has forfeited and a fine. 

How is that possibly a deterrent? He has won over $10 million in prize money on the tour and he gets a $12,000 fine? Much like the penalty imposed on Serena Williams after her tirade at the US Open last year, the toothlessness of the punishment able to be imposed on Nalbandian just astonishes.

The question that raises its head here then is: what penalty would be imposed by the other sports around the world for similar conduct? Lets first call Nalbanian’s act what it was: simply it was conduct that brought the game into disrepute of the worst order.  If one considers the worst category of offences of this type and the punishments for same across others sports one is left with the unmistakable notion that the penalty likely to be meted out here is not a deterrent at all.  Indeed faced with such a likely penalty there is a strong argument that reverse effect arises. 

In rugby league, rugby union or AFL a player would find himself on the sidelines for a hefty period of not less than 4 weeks for similar conduct.  In cricket, a player would lose his or her match fee and be suspended for a series of games. In baseball, a penalty of the order of 10 games would likely be dispensed.

Player behaviour will remain as the lead stories of sport’s casts while the deterrent from behaving in such a fashion remains lax.  Tennis it seems sits fair behind what many would consider an acceptable standard for dealing with player behaviour but even so, as I have stated in earlier posts, this is a problem that needs to be dealt with across the board and sooner rather than later.

I leave you with this question: has anyone thought about who will be the next generation of officials? Why would one become an official when the reward for doing ones job (often as a volunteer) is petulance and abuse by players?

What ever happened to the umpire’s always right? An addendum

Last week I wrote about the lack of respect shown to sporting officials and lamented that short of the players taking personal responsibility there was nothing really that could be done to restore the maxim that I grew up with (being that “the umpire is always right”) into the sports we all love to watch.

The principal feedback I received was whether I had considered the impact of parental behaviour at sport’s events on the future conduct of players.

To be fair I had considered that factor but really my initial view was that parental behaviour was perhaps not that big an issue in considering the totality of the “player respect” debate. Principally, in my mind, I had only considered my era of playing sport. Going back to those days I can not recall an event of “ugly parent” type behaviour at any of the sport that I had played. Equally, upon reflection it was not anything that I had ever paid attention to: I was too busy playing.

That being the case, I have had a read of recent reports of poor parental behaviour at sport and done a bit of a survey of mates of mine with kids who play sport. Ultimately, from both of these sources I have come to two conclusions:

1. Whilst there are a number of identifiable events of poor parental behaviour at sport, such behaviour does not appear to be happening at every game of sport played by children; and

2. It would be silliness to suggest that the behaviour of parents does not impact on the views of child / player with respect to the role that officials play in sport.

From a personal perspective I always had role models around me, in my parents and coaches, who hammered into me the maxim that the “umpire is always right”. I concede the obvious here that if the role models of players are not imparting and reinforcing that maxim then they are not likely to live by it like the sportsmen of my generation.

I wonder if that is to simplistic though: the people playing the sports we love are all adults. They all live by their own values systems and on the basis of their own judgments. It is trite to say, given what flows above, but at some point the excuses have to stop and personal responsibility for ones conduct must come to the fore.

I finish on a point that has been rattling around my head the last couple of days: if the boot was on the other foot would the players routinely abusing officials expect to be respected? I would suggest that they would and they would be lying if they posited otherwise. If that is the case, why does it seem to be foreign for those players to show some respect?