Have resisted writing about this so far, but it’s been a topic hard not to think about in the last week. In some ways, it’s both a difficult and an incredibly easy situation to discuss and think about.
Easy in as much as yes, women are treated poorly by far too many league players (not to mention too many men in general), and the specific situation in the Johns saga, while not apparently criminal, was certainly damaging and degrading and we should all do everything possible to stop these situations from occuring.
But apart from that, it all becomes very difficult. I notice that no one really wants to talk about how some young women behave. It’s not that anything excuses sexual assault of course, but some women are very willing participants in these sorts of sexual escapades, and the latest reports in the Johns thing seem to indicate that this young women involved was keen on everything at first, and even after apparently, only developing second thoughts about what went on a week later. This puts the whole situation in a slightly different light, only in as much as the belief that Johns saw everything as consensual, and if these new reports are true, then at the time it certainly appeared as nothing other than consensual.
The situation does however redefine a bit what consent actually is in these situations, though it also highlights that Johns (one of two players she consented to sex with) is not even primarily at fault here. What started as consensual sex between 2-3 people ended up being a weird orgy when another 10+ players entered the room. While Johns obviously could have stopped it, the fact is that the other players are as much to blame for what went on as Johns is. And we haven’t heard at all who any of them are… which is gutles beyond belief.
But for league in general… what does this all mean? First of all, I think it’s unfair for this incident to tar the whole game — for a start, it happened seven years ago. It sure shows how bad the problem has been for a while, but it doesn’t do anything to show the changes and programs that have been in effect in the last few years. Saying that something that happened seven years ago would change your opinion of league now is a bit dumb, but I’m seeing a lot of that around. That said, you can’t blame anyone for a negative opinion right now.
Though, is this really a “league problem”? I don’t think so. It’s probably difficult to know, but would the rate of sexual assault or misdeed by league players be any worse than general society? I doubt it. This is a problem for society more than it’s a problem for league, though league does need to address it seriously, because of their position in society, and the fame and influence of players. Of course, changing public attitudes by sportsman would help change society in general, which is of course another reason for league to work at this.
Lastly… Matthew Johns would appear to have his whole career in ruin, on every front, and though I utterly condemn the stupidity and thoughtlessness of what he did, I canj’t really shake the idea that he does deserve at least some of his life back. With 50,000+ people apparently agreeing with me on Facebook, I wonder if he might be back next year as a commentator, or more behind the scenes as a coach. You do have to wonder how much and for how long he needs to pay for what he did… bearing in mind he’s become the public face by default, and is thus sharing all of the blame. And you have to remember that he was fired by Nine because of bad PR, not because of his misdeeds.
So… a sad and degrading situation all round really. Let’s hope that the NRL really is moving seriously to stop this from occuring in any regular way ever again. They’ll never stop occasional bad behaviour, but of course this sort of thing has to be out the question in an institutional sense.