I had hoped that my first post for the 2016 NRL season would be a review of the Auckland 9s, or a season preview of My Beloveds. Yet one week before the 9s and five before the season proper, I feel obliged to post about what everyone is talking about. Mitchell Bloody Pearce.
As we march toward March with that bring-it-on attitude, it’s masked with trepidation; footy fans all over quietly praying to the footy gods, “come on, we’re almost through pre-season, no one stuff up”. And with equal amounts of frustration and disappointment we find ourselves talking of yet another player’s <foul / disrespectful / illegal / immoral / vile / stupid> behaviour.
We should be talking about the what impact Sam Burgess will have on his return to Souths, how Shaun Johnson will pull up at the 9s from his sickening injury, how the Broncos’s one-point grand final loss will influence their mental performance, and how good Tim Lafai looks in the Red V (fine, that last one is biased!) We should be talking about The Greatest Game of All. Instead, we’re talking about Mitchell Pearce – Roosters Captain, good first-grader, awful rep player – who was filmed dry humping a dog, pissing himself, sexually harassing a woman and generally being a douchelord.
To say that I’m sick of this shit doesn’t cut it any more. (It’s taken all my might not to write this post in shouty caps.) I am a proud and passionate supporter of rugby league. I’m sick of being embarrassed supporter too. But I find this time around that my embarrassment is directed more toward the fall out from the behaviour than the behaviour itself.
I’m sick of the weak “the NRL is taking this matter very seriously, and will not comment until an investigation is complete” media statements.
I’m sick of the defensive and utterly misguided comments from players, past and present, commentators and fans:
“who hasn’t made mistakes on the grog”,
“it’s been blown out of proportion”,
“he did nothing illegal”,
“no one was hurt”,
“he was in a private home”,
“shame on the person who filmed it”.
I’m sick of the empty apologies through crocodile tears, which rarely acknowledge the victim when there is one, “I’ve embarrassed meself. I’ve let me family down, me club down and the NRL down”.
I’m sick of the laughable punishments of pocket-money fines and a few weeks on the sideline.
I’m sick of the cycle.
There are players currently in the NRL who should be in jail – those who have glassed their girlfriends, beaten their pregnant fiancées, and stomped on strangers heads. The same excuses have been made for them. Naturally, I’m not suggesting Pearce should go to jail. The scale of bad behaviour should be reasonably measured against the punishment. But this is not an excuse for him and his incredibly poor choices.
Therefore in this case, at risk of getting a bad case of the Politics, he should be sacked – for at least 12 months, sanctioned by his club and the NRL. It is the only reasonable punishment. The fact that Pearce says he’s embarrassed is not enough. He must be punished where it really hurts: his privileged livelihood. Very few people have the talent (though Pearce’s can be questionable) and opportunity to embark on a career that is grounded in childhood fantasies, physical dominance, public admiration, with a hero status and a wad of cash to boot. There is evidence to suggest getting the sack works: Josh Dugan who was sacked by his club, and Todd Carney who eventually got booted from the NRL. These are two players who were in the news more for their behaviour than for their performances. It took a torn-up contract for them to get in line. Not a fine, not a suspension but a punishment that fit their crimes of bringing their club and the NRL into disrepute.
Forget about second chances and potentially destroying careers. If Pearce, Captain of the code’s richest club, getting sacked by the NRL and not just by his club (which means, unlike Dugan, another club can’t sign him straight away) is what it takes to set an example for other players then it must be done, no questions asked. We’ve heard it time and again, these players are on a pedestal, they are role models. It’s the badge that comes with the honour of playing the best sport in the world. We as fans appoint them in these precarious positions. No one player is bigger than the game, but it’s players like Pearce who are destroying the game by not respecting the intangible but visible badge on their jersey.
The punishments handed out by clubs and the NRL have always been inconsistent, embedded in a flawed system and entitled culture. Sadly, until this system and culture is radically overhauled, we can’t simply expect good behaviour from players just because it’s what we expect from everyone else. We need to threaten players with their careers.
While it’s unfair to demand perfection, in anyone, it is fair that we demand that players don’t blatantly disregard their privilege and abuse others, including maltese terriers (that’s not meant to be as trivial as it does). We demand it for the good of the game.