Tag Archives: NRL

,

Some ‘F’ Words: Footy, Fifita, Foran, Friendship and Forgiveness — what the NRL’s culture problems reveal about life together

It seems you can learn about real friendship from the most unlikely people.

fifita

Image credit: ABC News

I was pretty devastated last year when my team’s (the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles) clean-skin five-eighth, a prodigious talent, and potential future captain, Kieran Foran walked out of the club to join arch-rivals Parramatta.

There’s a long history of players switching between these clubs — usually in our favour, like the great Jamie Lyon, but this one hurt. Foran was said to be a family man, a humble and patient bloke who was widely respected by his peers and the press. He was not a boofhead. He was polite and well-spoken, not a boor. He was not like those other players who generate negative headlines for the game. Even in leaving, the headlines being generated were positive ones about him and the game. He was not, in any sense, like Andrew Fifita from the Cronulla Sharks, a gifted footballer whose career, many suggest, will be limited by the disruption he brings by bringing his larger-than-life character wherever he goes. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be saying the game needed less Kieran Foran’s and more Andrew Fifitas, I’d have laughed in your face.

A year later and things have unravelled somewhat for Kieran Foran. His reputation is in tatters; his new club tore up his contract because it turns out he’s not the messiah, nor even the golden haired child they thought he’d be. And it is clear he’s battling a whole range of demons. Mental illness is a terrible scourge for those experiencing it. It has reportedly been a tough year for Foran and for those who love him. I’m not at all writing this to judge him, or to comment on his decisions; life for him, and for many others, is complicated, and he’s made some mistakes and done some stupid things; and it’d be amazing if he were able to pull his life together, or have it pieced back together for him. Nobody is unredeemable. As I write about this year and reflect on his fall, I’m praying for him. Personally I reckon it’d be especially good for him if he found Jesus in all this; it seems Jesus isn’t far from an NRL field most weekends.

What is clear is that Foran needs new friends. It’s become apparent that one of his closest friends is at the heart of match-fixing allegations surrounding the NRL; specifically surrounding games involving Foran. This friend is an undesirable sort of character who has brought Foran’s reputation into question by doing such stupid things as trying to deposit gambling winnings into Foran’s account. This undesirable friend has mixed in circles with NRL players for years to get access to inside information; keeping them close using methods as morally questionable as providing free sex for NRL players and jockeys in a brothel he ran in Sydney. This undesirable claimed in a bizarro press conference this week that if it wasn’t for him, Foran wouldn’t be alive, and perhaps that’s true; but he is also cutting off his relationship with Foran so that he can pursue a return to the football field. I’m no expert, but from the outside (and from the inside perspective of Foran’s ex-partner) this undesirable has not actually been a good friend to Foran; and his undesirability has rubbed off on Foran’s reputation.

What are friends for?

Another friend of Foran’s, his god-father, Don Mackinnon is stepping in to help pick up the pieces; he’s described as a father-figure (Foran’s father lives in the U.S where he’s the CEO of Walmart), and he’s been doing what friends should do; standing with Foran and encouraging him to pick up the pieces of his life, and his career. The media love him for it because he’s doing something positive for Foran, and, for the game that makes us feel like we’re stakeholders in Foran’s life decisions; the footy. This sort of thing is apparently what friends are for. Making us better people. Friends who make us worse, or who cost us something, are to be cut-off.

Is that real friendship?

Clearly you’re not being a friend if you’re using and destroying on the person you claim to love for your own ends; as it seems is the case with Mr Undesirable; but what should a friend be doing for someone who has done the destroying themselves?

Enter Andrew Fifita.

Andrew Fifita has also had a rough year and apparently been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. He’s done some stupid stuff in the past, like badgering a referee at a junior football game, and this year has continued to do some questionable things; he, is, in some corners of the media, painted as a walking undesirable; a blight on the game.  It’s been suggested that he also needs new friends after he wore an armband bearing the letters F.K.L; apparently in support of his childhood friend ‘K.L,’ who is in jail for a coward punch killing. This friend is rightly paying for a stupid mistake that had deadly consequences. Fifita, despite all the advice he has received suggesting he do otherwise, is standing by his friend. He’s not just doing the token thing with some letters on his wrist, but has made multiple visits to his friend in prison. Apparently the authorities in both the game, and the government — the NRL’s Integrity Unit, and the New South Wales Police — don’t want our footballers consorting with this sort of character. This friendship doesn’t appear to gain him anything; in fact, Fifita seems to know that it costs him. If there’s one thing Fifita does seem to be, it’s loyal to his childhood friends; that was his explanation for running across the field to join a fight in State of Origin this year that saw him head to the sin bin. Sure. He’s done some dumb stuff. But there’s some sort of virtue there in the background. And it’s there when it comes to his costly support of his undesirable friend. People are worried that continuing to support his friend; visiting him in jail and wearing the letters on his wrist, brings both Fifita and the game into disrepute. Fifita has been pilloried from pillar to post by the media and the game’s hierarchy for daring to stand by his undesirable friend.

There’s been lots of speculation about what the “F” on his wristband stood for; and a widespread belief that he was calling for his friend to be freed; which would be insensitive for the family of the victim, and would fly in the face of campaigns against alcohol fuelled violence. A bunch of former-players-turned-media-pundits and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg piled in on Fifita; rightly concerned about the family of K.L’s victim. Greenberg told the media:

“Players are generally free to support any person or cause they like. But in circumstances such as these, they cannot use our game as a platform to do that.

We understand players have a life outside their club and the game and that may include mixing with people who have gone down the wrong path in life. But players must ensure they do not engage in any activity which damages our game… Arm guards can often be used for messages of support for family, sick children and other worthy causes and we would prefer not to get in the way of that.”

But it seems the F stands for the thing at the heart of real friendship. Perhaps this is a worthy cause. Perhaps it teaches us something true about friendship. A lesson the NRL might need if Foran’s undesirable friend has connections, as it seems, that run wide, not just deeply into the life of the Foran family.

It seems Fifita might actually be a guy the NRL (and its public) could learn from (though he’s still a boof-head and this is quite a specific thing to learn). It seems Fifita understands that real friendship crosses the boundaries of desirability at one’s personal cost; that real friendship isn’t just for fair weather, or for your own benefit. It seems he knows that the way to cross the boundary is via the toughest virtues of all.

First, a few weeks back, Fifita made it clear that he wasn’t downplaying the cost K.L’s actions had for the Kelly family (and they have been incredibly costly) — or calling for K.L, Kieran Loveridge, to be freed. He is simply humanising Kieran in a world that wants to use shame and guilt to dehumanise people when they make mistakes. One of the quickest ways to dehumanise someone is to cut them off from friendships and relationships. We’re wired to need relationships. And Fifita seems to get this… he said:

“… I think about the Kelly family when I think about Kieran. My support for Kieran is there because he is sitting without a glimmer of hope and I want to give him some hope. There are very few people who are going to support him and my bond with him runs deep.

“But to say that I think he should be free is just so wrong. It upsets me that people would think that. He has to do his time because he did the wrong thing, but I can’t ignore a bloke who grew up with me as family.”

Then, yesterday’s Danny Weidler column in the Sun Herald contained this little bit of info (which is consistent with what Fifita has suggested since the scandal broke, not just a convenient excuse to make up after the fact).

“What is also of interest is the “F” in the infamous “FKL” acronym worn by Fifita earlier this season was not “Free” or “For”. This column understands it’s “Forgive” – something Fifita wrote after two years of trying to find forgiveness for a mate who did the wrong thing.

It was something he struggled with and still does because he knows how brutal Kieran Loveridge’s act was. It is my understanding Fifita doesn’t want the world to forgive the one-punch killer. He’s not silly enough to push that down people’s throats. He wasn’t pushing it on to teammates or anyone else, it was a reminder to look for that in himself.”

Forgiveness is hard especially when the sin in question makes a person particularly undesirable. There’s a reason Jesus gets called ‘friend of sinners’ — and it’s not just that he spent time with undesirables like prostitutes and tax-collectors — it’s because his mission in life was to forgive people at his cost (the cost of his life, and death) in order to make us his friends. Just after Luke’s Gospel, where the Pharisees have been having a go at Jesus for hanging out with undesirables, Jesus says:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” — Luke 7:34

Just after he says this, Luke tells a story about an undesirable woman approaches him to wash his feet with expensive perfume (which she’s no doubt purchased with the money she made from her undesirable labours), the Pharisees think Jesus should cut off contact with her because she is a “sinner,” and he shows that Fifita is pretty on the money when it comes to friendship, while the NRL and the footy-loving media, might have something to learn. Jesus smashes the pharisees, while giving hope and friendship to this undesirable woman.

Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” — Luke 7:44-50

You could also easily go to the parable of the Good Samaritan here and its final question: ‘who was this [undesirable] man’s neighbour?’ — the example of Jesus is the example of extending friendship to someone, via forgiveness, at your own cost.

We can learn something Biblical from Foran’s story too; “bad company corrupts” (1 Corinthians 15:33), and that’s what happens if we take our lead from undesirables rather than seeing friendship as a costly outworking of the Gospel. The thing about the story of the Bible is that it becomes pretty clear that we’re actually all corrupted and undesirable; some of us are just better at hiding it than others, while some of us are more hypocritical than others (there’s a great irony to me that the line of pundits stepping forward to condemn Andrew Fifita includes Matthew Johns). The danger Paul is speaking about in 1 Corinthians 15 is the danger of forgetting that Jesus calls us to leave our old ways, but not our old friends, behind. We can love people without being corrupted by them; and this, too, is where Foran went wrong. Jesus managed to do this friendship thing without being corrupted — but he did it with compassion, and for people who nobody else wanted to see as human or give any sort of hope to — just like Fifita, and ultimately this will require a degree of forgiveness.

There’s something that people who want to follow Jesus and live in response to his vision of costly friendship for undesirables (us) can learn from Fifita here, inasmuch as his approach to friendship looks like Jesus’ approach to friendship. Forgiveness is hard. And yet Paul, who’d been greatly undesirable, a killer of Christians, before being forgiven, says it’s at the heart of our new life following Jesus:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:12-14

, ,

Channel 9’s awful gamble, broken lives, and betting on Jesus

I love Rugby League. I love the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. Say what you will – but League is faster, more exhilarating, and more straightforward than the boot-strapped game of chess and stoppages that is Rugby Union.

I love league. I hate the gambling industry. It’s an awful, poisonous industry that wrecks lives – financially and spiritually. I want to make a distinction here between small stakes poker, a casual bet on the outcome of a grudge match between two friends, raffles, Melbourne Cup sweeps at lunch, and perhaps even gambling as a form of entertainment, free of greed (if that’s possible), and the industry that has set itself up on the back of our love for a punt that makes huge profits by destroying lives. I do some of those things from time to time, but mostly avoid them as a wisdom issue, rather than a moral issue. But the gambling industry thrives on creating addicts and sustaining their addictions. It takes money from people and offers nothing tangible in return. It’s a parasite.

I’m not suggesting the individuals who get lured in and caught up in the web of the gambling industry are devoid of responsibility in their decision to gamble – but if gambling stops them meeting their other responsibilities – like feeding their families, then the gambling industry, the sporting industry, and the viewing audience, have the responsibility to stop enabling that sort of destruction. Responsible gambling is an oxymoron. The nature of a gamble is that it involves risk. The nature of an industry that generates that sort of profits by taking other people’s money, and giving them nothing in return (except a cheap, momentary, thrill) is “irresponsible,” not “responsible.

What makes me saddest is that the gambling industry is all about greed – and greed is an example of the rejection of God that the Bible calls idolatry.

So now I have a dilemma. Because the game I love is in bed with this industry that I hate.

Tom Waterhouse is a bookmaker who has signed a multi-million dollar deal with the NRL and Channel 9 to be a broadcast partner of the National Rugby League. That’s $50 million, and $15 million, that Waterhouse’s company has ripped out of the pockets of Australians – a fraction of their profits, and presumably a fraction of the money they stand to make from the arrangement.

Somehow this deal earned him a seat at the table when it came to 9’s coverage – he became a commentator, and his contribution was helping gamblers understand the various implications of Friday night’s game between the Brisbane Broncos and the mighty Sea Eagles (who won, in a thrilling second half comeback).

I didn’t catch the Tom Waterhouse Show on Friday night because I was at the game. Live. With my daughter.

It was her first game of football – and I’m very much looking forward to indoctrinating teaching her about the game, and how to appreciate it (even if Robyn wants her to love that other code).

Sadly, I won’t be able to do that using Channel 9’s coverage. There’s a bigger question about whether or not I’ll be able to teach her about any professional sport if the continued enmeshment of sport and gambling goes unchecked, that’s a deeper issue that needs a resolution, but the “in your face” nature of the coverage is an immediate concern.

The gambling industry preys on broken people and guarantees ongoing failure. Jesus offers restoration to broken people and a secure future.

I’m not into censoring too much when it comes to parenting – I’m happy to sit down with my daughter – and her yet to be born sibling(s) – and talk about what we watch together. I’ll do that with all sorts of cultural texts, because I want my kids to learn about the world we live in, and to be able to critically engage with the arts.

That’s something I’m really looking forward to – I want my kids to be able to parse cultural texts for meaning, and I want them to be able to use culture to reach people with the gospel.

Sadly, thanks to Channel 9’s decision to get in bed with an industry that destroys lives without remorse, their coverage of the Rugby League will now be one of those things I keep away from my kids until they’re in their teens. And by then it might be too late. By then they’ll probably love Rugby Union or some other inferior product.

I can appreciate that some parents prefer to keep harmful ideas away from their children. But that’s not my style. Obviously there are certain things that I want to introduce them to at certain points of maturity – and I think the secular classification board does a pretty good job at picking what is appropriate for different ages, and we’ll probably err on the side of caution.

But that’s not really what’s behind my thinking.

I’m not shielding my kids from gambling – I hope they’ll be sensible enough to understand how to approach concepts like “responsibility” and “greed”… But I don’t think I can be a responsible participant in society if I teach my kids that it’s ok to benefit from exploiting others.

I don’t mind talking to my kids about gambling, money and greed from the moment they’re born – I don’t even mind the casual bet with a couple of mates about the outcome of football games – but I refuse to take part, as a viewer, in enabling the destruction of lives. And I don’t want to model any sort of support for this selling out of others for my own entertainment or financial gain to my kids. Turning 9’s coverage off is one of the ways I’m going to make a stand.

Gambling is poisonous. It trashes lives. It tears families apart. Plenty of people have pointed out that the head of 9’s commentary team is a recovering gambling addict, and the face of the NRL – one of the game’s most scintillating players, has just checked in to a facility to deal with his gambling addiction which has left his life, and his family’s life, in tatters.

This decision by Channel 9 to throw people under the bus for the sake of their crumbling bottom line is a horribly tangible example of how broken our world is. They’ve taken a great thing – sport – a gift from God. And trashed it. And used it to trash lives. For their own gain.

I love sport because it teaches us good things about life. Individual sport teaches us about pursuing goals, working hard, and the value of discipline. Team sport teaches us about teamwork, selflessness, the value of a common cause, and camaraderie.

There’s a reason Paul uses sporting language to describe life following Jesus.

Here’s what he says in 1 Corinthians 9…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Sport is good – Paul says physical exercise is of some value – but what really counts in life is your spiritual health (1 Timothy 4:8). The real tragedy of Channel 9’s awful decision to enable problem gambling is that they’re taking something good, and not only not keeping it in perspective with eternal, spiritual matters – but they’re using it to destroy lives both physically (as families fall into poverty) and spiritually, as people get trapped in a cycle of greed that leaves them rejecting the God who made us, and sport – to serve the pursuit of money through a system that is rigged against them, and only works if people lose more than they win.

Greed is a horrible thing – not just because it involves trashing other people for your own gain, and ultimately trashing yourself in the relentless pursuit of more, but because it involves putting the pursuit of wealth in the place God should occupy. Paul calls this idolatry (in Ephesians 5:5).

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Jesus puts it a little more clearly – using slightly less theologically loaded language in Matthew chapter 6.

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

He says this off the back of saying that storing up wealth now – pursuing wealth – is stupid because it’s not going to last. And that’s the real stupidity at the heart of gambling – it’s about taking huge risks for long odds on short term rewards. Even if you win now – the one certainty is that when you die, your winnings aren’t going with you.

Gambling is hopeless. It comes out of brokenness and leads to more brokenness.

Without Jesus, not gambling is a good idea for your personal finances – but it ultimately leaves us less poor,  still broken, and still losing at the end, when we die.

Jesus gives hope. And his life offers a real solution to brokenness. And a safe investment.

From Matthew 6 again…

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I love this Colin Buchanan song about the real hope Jesus offers (on Spotify) (or YouTube).

“I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
The one who died a real death for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
Throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope my Saviour won for me”

I hate the gambling industry. I hate that it preys on the weak and vulnerable with almost Darwinian antipathy leaving the weak weaker, and the poor poorer, and I hate that its insidious poison can turn functional and successful people into train wrecks who wreak havoc on the lives of those who love them. So there’s no way I’ll be able to watch Channel 9 destroy lives each week.

Here’s an ad from GetUp exposing some of the rhetoric the pro-gambling types use to justify the destruction of lives for financial gain after the NRL sided with the pokie industry when the Australian Government wanted to do something to make gambling more difficult.

Until Channel 9 extracts itself from this situation where its participating in the destruction of Australian families, undermining everything that’s great about sport, I’ll be listening on the radio or signing up for Foxtel. It’d be nice if the NRL stood up too and separated itself from the poison that threatens so many of those involved in the game – and the people who watch it and look up to its stars – rather than buying into the same greed that fuels that brokenness and perpetuating the problem.

An ode to Laurie Daley’s extraordinarily bad tipping abilities

Some people make hating Manly into an art form, some people have turned on field success into career longevity in the form of punditry and off field roles. Few have done both the way Laurie Daley has.

Laurie Daley is an idiot. Here is his season prediction for Manly this year: 13th. They’re now in the Grand Final.

He was a selector for the NSW State of Origin team for five years, and while I don’t condone filling wikipedia with biased misinformation the blurb has it about right:

“He was the first person from the disgraced and shamed New South Wales administration to quit after five consecutive series defeats”

Mr Daley tipped the Roosters, the Raiders, and the Titans to make the top six this year, they came 11th, 15th, and 16th. His pre-season predictions were abysmal – the teams that finished the regular season in positions 1 and 2 were tipped to come 11th and 13th respectively.

He spent last week death-riding Manly, suggesting the Broncos were specials to knock off Manly.

The man is an idiot.

Manly should take out next Sunday’s Grand Final, which will be sensational…

,

Banning social media a band-aid solution

The Penrith Panthers have joined a bunch of other major sporting teams (including Manchester United) in banning their players from having a presence on popular social networks Twitter and Facebook. I can’t see, from a branding point of view, how this is a good thing for the club – surely having the players use these mediums productively, for the benefit of fans, would be a more beneficial long term strategy.

There is, of course, the danger of players being people. Being a bit too human. Airing dirty laundry. Or, doing what LeBron James just famously did in the U.S – using the medium to generate buzz around their playing future and leveraging up their salary and status. I can see why clubs would want to stop that sort of behaviour.

But the Panthers say they are doing this to “protect the players” essentially from themselves. Here’s what the Panthers have said about the policy (from FoxSports):

“We don’t want our players using these social networking websites. They are an invasion of privacy. They can be dangerous.”

Well, not really, they’re not an invasion of privacy but a forum where you can voluntarily make parts of your life unprivate. Nobody is questioning the capacity for these platforms to be misused. But dangerous? Not really.

Brisbane seem to have a more measured (and reasonable) approach:

“The Broncos have added a clause to their code of conduct that states any player posting a detrimental comment on Facebook or Twitter could be fined or suspended.”

My former employers had a policy along similar lines – with instructions not to engage in narky online flamewars (a paraphrase) we were to participate in online discussion in good humour, while recognising privacy and confidentiality concerns.

The FoxSports story, I think, hits the nail on the head when it comes to the motives of these moves:

“NRL clubs are deeply concerned about what players post in their status bar and whether their party photos are a “bad look”.”

It’s ultimately not about player safety – but about managing the NRL’s brand. And at this point I think the heavy handed “no go” social media policy is treating symptoms of the problem rather than its root cause. If players weren’t doing anything (in public, or private) that could be posted online in an embarrassing way – then there wouldn’t be a problem. Keeping the players off Facebook doesn’t stop photos being put up, nor does it stop those photos being sent to a journalist.

The real key to not damaging your brand via social networks is to not be doing stuff that would damage your brand. That’s where clubs should be directing their energy and attention.

There’s a further danger, which this story picks up, of players not present on Facebook being impersonated by people with less than optimal intentions. Apparently it’s happening with superstar Jarryd Hayne right now – and previously it has been an issue on Twitter for people like Kanye West (who apparently joined up just to avoid being impersonated). You can read his expletive laden all-caps tirade at Twitter impersonators from last May here at TechCrunch (I can’t find it on his actual blog)…

“THE PEOPLE AT TWITTER KNOW I DON’T HAVE A #%$@@# TWITTER SO FOR THEM TO ALLOW SOMEONE TO POSE AS ME AND ACCUMULATE OVER A MILLION NAMES IS IRRESPONSIBLE AND DECEITFUL TO THERE FAITHFUL USERS. REPEAT… THE HEADS OF TWITTER KNEW I DIDN’T HAVE A TWITTER AND THEY HAVE TO KNOW WHICH ACCOUNTS HAVE HIGH ACTIVITY ON THEM… IT MAKES ME QUESTION WHAT OTHER SO CALLED CELEBRITY TWITTERS ARE ACTUALLY REAL OR FAKE. HEY TWITTER, TAKE THE SO CALLED KANYE WEST TWITTER DOWN NOW …. WHY? … BECAUSE MY CAPS LOCK KEY IS LOUD!!!!!!!!!”

, ,

What the Cronulla Sharks teach us about the News Cycle

The Cronulla saga is dragging on and on. The media are having a field day with the club and in one way or another the focus on the club’s on and off field discretions (and its culture) has claimed some pretty major scalps, including:

  1. Matthew Johns, high profile media star and former player
  2. Chairman Barry Pierce
  3. CEO Frank Zappia
  4. Captain Paul Gallen (lost the captaincy but is still playing)
  5. Greg Bird
  6. New signing (and drug taker) Reni Maitua

I wouldn’t be surprised if it now claims Ricky Stuart as well… his team isn’t performing, he was sacked as Australian coach for his tirade against a referee, and he’s now been embroiled in this whole CEO scandal.

The Sharks need a change of culture pretty quickly in order to save the club – and part of the cultural problem is a problem endemic in club sports – where mateship rules and indiscretions are swept under the carpet.

There have been a number of different scandals that have almost damaged the Sharks brand beyond repair. In fact, it may well be past the point of no return. The scandals came at a time when the club was already in dire financial straits – they’re in debt, they’re looking to sell or get the NRL’s blessing to relocate, since the Johns scandal they’ve been hemorrhaging sponsors – with their primary sponsor also pulling the pin.

They’ve been caught up in immorality, racism, violent assault and drug taking. And the media is loving it. The Sharks are buried in a quagmire of bad publicity – which is a PR nightmare (or opportunity if you like Crisis Management). And it’s been pretty poorly handled all round. The board has failed, the CEO has failed, the Shark’s PR girl is one of their main accusors, only the NRL and the NRL’s predominant media partner have come out of it in improved positions.

The NRL has taken a pretty down the line, hardline, stance – calling for cultural change and including to back its associated club. David Gallop has had far too much practice in this sort of situation to do anything less than a good job.

Nine has put Matthew Johns through the ringer (gaining great ratings in doing so) and managed to both distance themselves (through his sacking), show empathy (through Phil Gould’s tears on the Footy Show), and they’ve left the door slightly ajar for Johns with the Sam Newman precedent… they’ve also changed the content of the Footy Show – and made it less offensively boorish and more about the game.

In a couple of cases – particularly with Matthew Johns and Frank Zappia –  there has been a clear instance of media manipulation as their respective PR people try to turn the tide – discrediting whoever has made the claim against them… in both cases women, and in both cases about inappropriate treatment of women.

The Sharks have an endemic cultural problem – but that’s an altogether different topic. But they have also failed grossly in managing and protecting their brand. When the accusations first came to light they should have immediately stood down their board and elected fresh faces (which they tried to do but this was politically circumvented by the current board), sacked the CEO, and started a massive proactive “cultural clean up” – instead they’ve, to steal a mafia term, “gone to the mattresses” – they’re trying to fight it out, while hiding. The Chairman was re-elected unopposed at a board meeting, the CEO was given support despite obviously financially mismanaging the club – and not taking appropriate action regarding the culture. And they’re paying for it – because the net effect of taking these steps has now been realised – but it wasn’t voluntary. And it looks like the media has forced their hand.

They’ve also tried to play the media outlets against one another – which is never a good move. Fairfax blasted them for allegedly engaging in a number of immoral practices to essentially keep the players happy – and they ran to News Ltd to publish a counter story – now their ex-PR representative says the stories were true. News Ltd now has egg on its face.  When managing a crisis you should never, ever, lie. It is, if there is a worst time to do it, the worst time to do it.

After Matthew Johns was brought to tears and the point of collapse on A Current Affair stories started to circulate from “unnamed friends” of “Clare” that she had in fact spent the weeks following the incident bragging about her conquest. Stories that began to paint Johns in a new, less guilty light. Here are two stories from the opposite ends of the media spectrum (ABC and Fox Sports) released within an hour of each other… notice the similarity in the headlines:

Now, after Frank Zappia stands down, we see a story aiming to discredit the key witness in his prosecution. A girl he allegedly punched in the face and then suggested receiving a “spanking” as appropriate recompense.  She apparently signed a document clearing him of wrongdoing. The woman at the centre of the claim is on the record as wanting to keep her job – despite the incident. This couldn’t be a factor? She’s also got that pesky audio recording that would seem to suggest the wrongdoing occurred – despite what a signed, written report might say. Channel 7 is having a field day with that exclusive.

The best PR, if you’re guilty, is to fall on your sword with grace and aplomb. Not to go down fighting. That drags your brand down with you. None of the men involved are bigger than the club they represent – and none of them are acting as representatives by staying on.  They can’t fix the problem when they are the problem. There’s a precedent here too. The Bulldogs have essentially resurrected their brand (and their performances on the field) following a similar cultural cleanout – that encompassed both playing personnel and backroom staff. Their fullback Luke Patten had some wise words for the Sharks to consider…

“I guess the club just made some tough decisions.”

“Anyone that was stuffing up, they got rid of them and they brought (CEO) Todd Greenberg in and he just made decision after decision really – new coach, all new staff, new players and with that everything’s changed.”

“There’s a new attitude and everyone’s working really hard for that and maybe the Sharks, that is something they can look at.”

Also…

On a subject vaguely related to “commentary” – I watched the football tonight.

I can not come to terms with Manly’s reversal of fortune and or ability after last year’s Grand Final.

I refuse to put it all down to Brett Stewart. Instead I blame the following three players, who I would drop immediately were I the coach:

  1. Michael Bani – ok in attack, rubbish in defense.
  2. Chris Bailey – why was he signed? What does he do? He’s great in attack provided he doesn’t have to pass or think creatively. But he’s a 5/8th. They need to put Lyon back at pivot.
  3. Shane Rodney or Glenn Hall – they are nothing players. Who do nothing. At all. Cuthbertson should be in the run on side. 

Also, I find Billy Slater intolerably annoying. He’s far too good. And he has a face that makes me want to lash out in violent anger. I’d like him to play for a team that I like – but that is unlikely so he is like, unlikeable.

Oh well, at least Manchester United beat Arsenal.

Eagles and jet engines

I am annoyed. Here’s a recipe for being annoyed.

  1. My beloved Sea Eagles are zero and three after three rounds.
  2. Tonight they went down 12-10 to Penrith.
  3. They can’t win/score points without Brett Stewart or David Williams.
  4. I spent the second half listening to Phil Gould gloating about the Eagle’s plight. For someone who relied on the Sea Eagle’s money to keep the ARL alive during the Super League war he’s sure got a bad mid term memory.

Oh well, at least the Raiders are worse.

,

Manlyness

It’s obviously a pretty difficult time to be a Manly supporter – what with guys who punch fathers of attractive girls who dare to interfere in their advances and alleged sexual assaulters named to turn out for the team on Friday.

The NRL has just suspended Stewart for five rounds.

It makes me feel sick.

I don’t even want to trot out the “innocent until proven guilty” line in their defense. Or mention that the Gold Coast Titans played a player all year who was facing a charge for the same offence.

What’s worse than the media circus surrounding the upcoming court case is the fact that everyone feels compelled to weigh in on the debate. The NRL has forced a club not to play a player (for ruining their ad campaign bringing the game into disrepute, a former test rugby player and SMH columnist wants them to sack him, a group of prominent women associated with the club have come out saying the player is a gentleman, and a former League player from another club is now calling on Manly to drop the player for this weekend. Then all the politicians had to have their say on the issue.

Calling on a player to stand down while the charge is investigated is fair enough – or would be if the investigation took only a matter of weeks – but they often don’t. The Titans player mentioned previously played a whole season before being found not guilty. If he’d been forced to sit out that would have cost him a year’s wages in case where he was found innocent.

,

Contractual Obligation

I was going to write something a while back on the Cristiano Ronaldo saga at Manchester United. For those of you who aren’t fans of the “Red Devils” or the “Beautiful Game” – so aren’t au fait with the situation – Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest, brightest, best superstar playing for arguably the biggest, brightest, best club in the world (well they’re European Champions, and back-to-back winners of the world’s best football league). The problem is, Cristiano doesn’t see things this way – he’d rather play for glamour club Real Madrid. Real pay their stars exorbitant wages and don’t really win anything – but they go into massive debt to buy players and mercilessly exploit their image rights to pay the interest. But I digress. Cristiano’s problem is that he signed a five year contract with Manchester United pretty recently. In the murky world of Football politics and contractual law – clubs can sell contracted players for “transfer fees” – essentially the longer the contract the higher the fee the club can receive. In fact, players can move clubs for free at the end of contracts (and sign with new clubs on free transfers in the final year of their contract with the transfer taking place upon expiry). It’s in the best interest of the club to sign players up for long term deals. Wage structures in these contracts often reflect “potential value” rather than actual. So a young player is offered a contract with a lot of zeros because the club wants to keep them for a long time – and if they see a chance to sell their star they get the best possible price.

The integrity of contracts is fundamentally important to the commercial survival of clubs. Some clubs in England survive, financially and competitively, by buying and developing young talent and onselling them to the top clubs at a profit. Sonny Bill Williams decision to disregard his contract with the Bulldogs has brought the contractual argument into the world of Rugby League. His case is distinct from the round ball game, and from Cristiano Ronaldo’s situation – in that he is switching across codes – rather than within a code. League also doesn’t have a transfer fee system, and it has a salary cap – which football (in the literary and global sense) doesn’t.

My take on both situations is that these players are being led astray by greedy “sports agents” – the antithesis to Jerry McGuire. Agents benefit greatly when their charges sign new contracts – they get massive commissions – 10% in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo’s proposed deal. They’re like leeches. They also are the ones that broker the legal side of sport’s contracts – and they advise their clients to sign on when perhaps it’s not in their best interest to do so.

A contract is a contract – and, sports clubs, and governing body such as the NRL – have every right to expect they be honoured. The FIFA (the global football body) President, who nobody really likes, came out and basically said Ronaldo (who is on millions of pounds per year) is essentially being treated as a slave – not particularly helpful (or politically correct) stuff from someone who is meant to be the game’s senior figure. NRL CEO David Gallop has been much more statesmanlike in his handling of the SBW situation. Although Gus Gould gave him a bit of a roasting for pretty much overseeing the death of Rugby League as we know it. I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on what this means for the game.

My friend Ben seems pretty convinced that the NRL needs to shrink (number of clubs) and expand (nationwide) which has been one option suggested by a few people. That’s probably an unfair summary of his argument – but I think he’ll email me to clarify when he’s read this, so I’ll leave it as is.

On a role

An individual has many “roles” – only on stage is one completely defined by a particular “role”.

The idea that sports people are “role models” is a false premise being pushed onto society by the media.

It’s a good emotionally manipulative line to run – and no doubt it will sell papers. But the fallacy that Andrew Johns, and the unnamed AFL players from Hawthorn, have let society down because they are “role models” is wrong.

Aspiring sports stars may use them as archetypal sports models – ie I would love to be able to play football like Andrew Johns – and they could arguably be great models for drugtakers (a professional sports career seems to be one legal avenue for earning the money required to fund a recreational drug habit) but no one intelligent styles their life on these sportsmen.

Or at least, no one should.

It’s much more likely that people style themselves on elements of a number of influences – in particular parents. If people are looking to famous sportspeople for inspiration in every field (not just on the field) – then our society has a massive problem.

The NRL and AFL could easily let themselves off the PR hook when it comes to their player’s indiscretions by claiming no responsibility for their employee’s private lives. Some players may choose to act as role models through engaging in community activities and the like. But the umbrella bodies in each sport are perpetuating the problem by continuing to tout their stars as being allround good guys who everyone should aspire to.

Statistically speaking the chances of becoming a professional sportsperson are pretty slim – the number of children who genuinely have aspirations of becoming the next Andrew Johns will no doubt be disproportionate. But parents can not abdicate their basic responsibilities for the upbringing and character of their children to some pseudo nanny-state society where sports stars are surrogate parents. That’s bollocks.

The only reason that sports stars should be held accountable for their drug taking is the effect it must surely have on their ability to perform – and their long term health and wellbeing – which is the club’s responsibility.

, ,

Paris for the weekend

I feel no pity for Paris Hilton – instead I’m still filled with mirth every time I picture the poor heiress (that’s called juxtaposition boys and girls) to the Hilton fortune curled up in a prison cell wearing regulation orange overalls. Paris Hilton drove drunk. Paris Hilton had her licence revoked. Paris Hilton was warned not to drive while disqualified. Paris Hilton’s agent told her she’d get away with it. Paris Hilton listened to her agent – not the court – and Paris Hilton got caught. That’s the long and the short of it. And now she’s in jail – or she will be from June 5 – for 45 days. Not content to go down without a fight Paris Hilton has launched a campaign via her MySpace – suggesting she’s much too good looking to go to jail. Another MySpace campaign is not so flattering – a right wing cult leader/nut job/conspiracy theorist is so tired of Paris and the league of false role models that he’s launching a campaign encouraging people to burn her CDs outside Hilton hotels. His protest is based solely on Hilton’s lack of suitability as a role model and is not making an aesthetic judgement on the actual CDs – which I would have thought an equally compelling reason to burn them. Sucks to be her – apart from the millions of dollars she flouts while out and about trouncing around the country side (there are lots of “ou” words in that sentence). For someone who writes “socialite” on the employment section of any forms she probably could have claimed that she was in fact using her motor vehicle for “work” related activities – a defence Winona Ryder tried out during her 2001 shoplifting trial (some stories claimed the shoplifting incident was “research” for a role as a criminal.

In other news – Manchester United are the champions – after years of putting up with Chelsea’s incredible bankroll and backroom deals the Red Devils are again the top dogs in the English Premier League. Thanks to Arsenal, which makes the victory extra sweet… Now if Manly can maintain their current vein of form in the NRL it could be an almost perfect year of sport.

,

Rugby cuts off Grothe

If I had written the HTML programming language it would have included a “rant” tagline.

Robyn won’t like this post. For all her great qualities she is, somewhat unfortunately, a fan of Rugby Union. Many fans of Rugby Union will tell you that it is the game they play in heaven – and if that’s the case I’d seriously think about trading in Christianity for Buddhism (ok, well I wouldn’t really do that it was more a piece of poetic license). They’ll argue that “at its best” it’s a flowing game full of skilled attacking forays and deft passing, and that it’s driven by tactics and nuance… Rugby, in my experience, is played “at its best” about once every four years, in the early rounds of the world cup when professional teams put the minnows to the sword. Rugby is typically a slow game marred by stoppages, incessant scrums, tiresome rucking and mauling, and ridiculous nonsensical penalties. My main gripe with Rugby stems not from the superiority complex it suffers from, my problem is their inability to develop talent capable of playing at the highest level. Rugby fans will cite the crowds at Super 14 games and test matches as evidence that it’s a popular game – television ratings tell another story. Rugby is unwatchable for the layperson and numbers don’t lie – Rugby League continues to be the most successful televised sport in New South Wales and Queensland. Club rugby can not hope to compete with club League – so they try to compare apples and oranges by taking a representative competition (Super 14) and comparing it with a national club competition – of course a NSW team should pack out a stadium… but they should also be able to win the odd game or two. Rugby Union likes to sign league players as PR stunts. These players will inevitably be picked for state teams at the expense of properly trained junior rugby union stars – and will possibly be contractually guaranteed the opportunity to play for Australia. The list of League to Union converts is a long one, the list of success stories is markedly shorter. From a list including talented athletes Mat Rogers, Lote Tuquiri, Wendell Sailor, Brad Thorn, Andrew Walker, Clinton Shifcofske – only Tuqiri is still playing international rugby – and this isn’t due to a lack of quality on the field. Rogers, Thorn and Walker got sick of union and went back to league – Walker and Sailor were both busted for cocaine use. Shifcofske should never ever play for Australia (he was once a drug cheat too – which suggests Union isn’t picky when it comes to their desperation to get one up on their league counterparts). Tuquiri recently re-signed with the Waratahs in a massive deal, and they followed that signing with a million dollar deal to lure Timana Tahu across the chasm. League players (particularly backs) get notoriously bored in the 15 man code so they have to pay them heaps more to keep them. Paying league players this much to cross over is a foolish ploy to win a battle that rugby can not afford to be engaged in, and one that they’ll never win. Their game is too inaccessible to people not brought up on a staple diet of union. Those in the know (ie economist Michael Pascoe) suggest the ARU is in danger of sending itself broke, particularly with gate receipts plummeting as Australian teams fail and falter on the field. Eric Grothe Jr, son of the “Guru” has had an interestingly patchy league career including years in the “wilderness” spent “discovering” himself and playing guitar. He’s big and mobile and he’s a gifted athlete – but the ARU has decided enough is enough and they’re going to invest their money in development – hopefuly that comes too late and union dies the slow and painful death it deserves.