Strippers, sex tapes, violence: Long road to NRL redemption
'Boot the slut': The NRL has a rough road ahead if it hopes to turn around the disrespect and debasement of women by its players and fans, writes SHERELE MOODY.
WELL. Well. Well. Something continues to really stink at the NRL. And by "stink" I mean the ongoing debasement and mistreatment of women by grown men who chase a football for a living.
It's the eve of International Women's Day and one of our biggest sporting codes is once again mired in controversy as a number of stars bring the game into disrepute with their disgusting behaviour towards the opposite sex.
In the past few weeks we've had:
. One player blacklisted for life for an alleged assault on his female partner. The NRL kicked him out after viewing CCTV footage of the alleged attack but he has not yet faced trial on the matter;
. Another player facing court for an alleged assault on his partner - he denies the allegations and he's been stood down pending the outcome of the case;
. Another star is off-field as he faces serious sexual violence allegations (which he denies);
. This week a player was charged over the alleged sharing of sex tapes without consent; and
. A popular NRL fan page on Facebook was taken offline for its alleged role in treating women like - excuse the expletive - shit.
The fan page, which had more than 300,000 followers, is a perfect example of how the actions of players influence the actions of those who adore and heroize them.
As news of the sex tapes spread, the page's followers egged on others to share the material that was allegedly filmed and released without the permission or knowledge of the women involved.
"Anyone keen to send over the f--- tape," one bloke wrote on the Facebook feed.
"Who's got the third vid? I need to complete the trilogy."
And things quickly went from bad to outrageously disgusting.
"Could you imagine. They would fine the guy who leaked it and she would be getting compo and probably her own reality TV show," one man said.
Another responded: "Love to see them suck p--- from each other ha ha."
The people behind these conversations are not faceless and they are not nameless.
They are actual men with children and partners.
They move around everyday social circles that include young vulnerable women and just as impressionable boys and young men.
These are men who love football and whose very existence seems to rely on their favourite team making the grand final.
They live and breathe the game and everything that is associated with it.
It is important to understand that the toxic treatment of women by some NRL players does not happen in a vacuum.
Sporting stars - and their attitudes - have a massive impact on their fans.
In Australia, violence and abuse against women and children is at epidemic levels.
Already this year, we have lost 12 women and three kids to murder or manslaughter - 14 of these 15 victims were allegedly killed by men.
Meanwhile, Australian police deal with about 650 family and domestic violence call-outs - EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
That's about 240,000 offences a year, with about 75 per cent of the offenders being blokes.
We already know that gendered violence is driven by four key factors: Social condoning of violence; men's control of decision making and men's limiting of women's independence; stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity; and disrespect towards women.
This is not to say that all NRL players - or all men - are guilty of perpetuating these drivers but it is clear from the ongoing issues plaguing league that some of these factors are prominent.
For example, the allegations of violence against women and the sharing of sex tapes shows some players and fans are struggling to have positive, equal and respectful relationships with women.
Disrespecting women is not a new issue - it has been a problem for as long as the NRL has been in existence.
Yet, it's taken until the past fortnight for the NRL's governing body to step up to the plate and punish those who cross the line.
In December - when I wrote about how footy's bad boys should be barred for life - the NRL came out fighting, claiming there was no "culture of violence" in the league.
The Australian Rugby League Commission announced around that time that an audit would be conducted into how clubs were dealing with misogynistic behaviour and whether or not things were being done right.
"The audit really is about are we doing enough, are we doing it the right way, do we have the right leadership across our clubs, and all of those are open questions, good questions," NRL chief Todd Greenberg said.
On March 1, Greenberg announced the league would impose sanctions "following investigations into player behaviour" by its Integrity Unit.
These sanctions included taking players out of the game and imposing salary caps for what the league described as "off-field behaviour issues".
Not everyone took the news well with Sharks boss Barry Russell quitting over the situation and one of the sanctioned players lodging legal action this week.
A friend of mine - let's call her Rhonda - has insider knowledge of how footy culture works, having spent eight years in a relationship with a footballer.
The tales she tells are enough to make your toes curl.
"The culture is violent, disgusting and definitely drink-driven," Rhonda says.
"People around them (players) are no better, sometimes providing false stories or diversions to take the heat off when a player gets in trouble.
"What we see on the news is just the tip of the iceberg."
The toxic attitudes towards women permeate every aspect of the game - from grassroots clubs in tiny towns to the locker rooms of the NRL's biggest brands.
Often the negative attitude towards women is planted in the minds of very young players when they join their local league.
"The management (of my local club) would put on some strippers and get them to do a 'fruit and veg' (show their genitals) show once a month," another friend tells me.
"I had a guy that played amateur rugby that pushed me into the toilet and ripped the buttons off my jeans trying to get my pants off - he thought that I wanted him because I was tipsy and being nice to him."
In 2017, a woman who had a relationship with a prominent player revealed that NRL stars "bonded over group sex sessions".
"It's about power, fast cash, fit bodies and getting women they like," she told the Daily Telegraph.
"They don't want to let the team down."
It will take generations before we see all NRL players treating women like something more than punching bags and sex objects.
The reality is the men who have these attitudes will remain in the league unless they are convicted of a crime or the NRL decides their misdeed is bad enough to get the boot.
In the meantime the league will be bringing in younger players from junior and middle-level clubs where treating women like dirt may often be the norm.
Over time, the impact of school-based respectful relationships programs will hopefully lead to a cohort of boys and young men who treat women as their equals and eventually that will filter into local teams and eventually flow through to the NRL (at least that's the dream of anti-violence activists and feminists Australia-wide).
Until then, we need "good" footballers to set the standard publicly and privately.
A good start is having heroes of the game call out the behaviour of their colleagues.
Men like NRL former rugby great Luke Lewis who told NRL 360's audience on Wednesday night that "You've either got morals, or you don't. My morals are: you do not belt a woman. That's just how it is."
"I just don't respect any man that goes out and belts a woman. It's just not right."
News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is a Walkley Our Watch fellow, the recipient of the 2018 B&T Women in Media Social Change Maker Award and has multiple Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her work highlighting violence against women and children. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Australian Femicide & Child Death Map.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support phone the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800737732.