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 'Tackling Mental Health for Rugby League'
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 Kick Off...Mental Health for Rugby League

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 Behaviour can best be described as: 

“The observable reaction, response or demonstrative outworking of that which originates in the psyche (mind), both conscious & unconscious; being a confluence of genetic and developmental factors & sources”.

In other words, behaviour represents 'what we see'. The origin of this behaviour is 'in the mind'.




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Rugby League tonight is once again in damage control following 

yet another off-field incident involving a high profile player”…… 



“Yet another sex scandal has rocked the Rugby League world”…… 



“………has been stood down by the club pending internal investigations 

into alleged misconduct at an inner city hotel”. 



“This latest scandal has the capacity to bring Rugby League to its 

knees and has League bosses fuming as they hastily go into 

‘damage control’……’damage control’…….’damage control’….. 



Does this sound familiar?





Behaviour & Rugby League- an 'overview'



Survival in Rugby League seems not only to apply to that which takes place on the field but an array of associated facts of life. It encompasses so many aspects of life’s experiences that it is little wonder that the player is oft times completely overwhelmed and ‘lost’. Being subject to almost insurmountable odds, the likelihood of coming through to a point of peace and satisfaction within themselves and with others is minimal. It is easy to see why many fall away; personally, vocationally, psychologically, socially and physically. Relationships fail, job opportunities are forsaken or lost, the parameters of their social capacity is diminished and they are regularly seen to carry physical injuries and ailments throughout their lives, as a consequence of the brutal nature of the sport.


Much has been leveled at the ‘behaviour’ of sportspeople, particularly those of higher profile and public image and those of body contact sports. Alcohol has been thrown into the mix, drugs, though of lesser appeal and disclosure in recent times and some type of endemic, deep-seated, primal disrespect of women; the latter being almost depicted as a genetic abnormality. Of course there’s the perennial tag, ‘culture’, which has developed for the appeasement of the general public; sufficiently vague and spurious as to cover everything. What culture? There are many who would be curious as to the explanation of this seemingly simplistic view and therefore be fascinated as to the answers. Surely, a simple phrase should consequently imply a simple answer. Culture, in reality, is very complex in nature. To use the term incorrectly will only endorse an incorrect response to the misperception of this apparent ‘culture’.


The reality of aberrant behaviour lies not simply or solely in the sport played, or the profile, money, role modeling, genetics etc. All these have their part to play; all contribute to who we are and how we play that out in our lives in the context of social adaptation and involvement. Who or what can we blame? This seems to be the aim of interested groups, ‘couch potatoes’ and the media.


There is an abundance of literature and well crafted, accurate & compelling theories regarding the influence & effect our current 21st century ‘consumer driven’ western society has upon the individual encapsulated therein. Unfortunately, being able to prove or define this effect does little to enable one to escape its consequences and offers nothing more than a rather wistful and idealistic notion of possible alternatives. One must therefore accept society’s contribution to our personal ills and learn, at best, how to recognize and cope with it.


Having accepted this fact, we now need to view our various sports as products and those who participate and are involved at the very performance ‘coal face’, as commodities. This then allows our perspective to shift to reality. Rugby League is a product. The companies and businesses that pour their money into the sport, from the logos on jerseys (for subliminal association) to the naming of stadiums and arenas, do so for pecuniary benefit.


This is not said to belittle or reduce the importance of their contribution, but to be completely pragmatic. The benefit of this financial input is immense and enables many of our sports to survive & grow and our participants to fulfill lifelong ambitions by realising their sporting potential. But as with most things in our lives, one has to accept the good with the bad, the positive with the negative and the benefits with the detrimental consequences.


The behaviour of the sports’ commodities reflects upon the businesses that support and endorse it. The financial structure of the product is potentially jeopardized by these aberrant behaviours & the ensuing negative publicity.


Unfortunately these ‘commodities’ are people; individual human beings who are all entirely unique and who all are complex in development and nature. As such, they are inherently difficult to effectively ‘control’ or even manage. If they were simply inanimate objects on a shelf, we could merely rearrange them, display them, discard them, or do whatever we wanted without objection and/or dissidence; such an obvious fact, though one which is sadly overlooked. Therein lies the conundrum; the very cause of the problem is the very reason for the success of the product and its very existence.


No one should delude themselves into believing this seemingly sudden proliferation of antisocial, aberrant, misogynistic behaviour is a new phenomenon that has hitherto not existed. From anecdotal & documented evidence, these types of behaviours have always existed. Where once clubs and officials were able to ‘discreetly deal with in house’, ‘cover up’, ‘sweep under the carpet’ or ‘hide’ the indiscretions of the player, the tide has now turned; it is now more tantalizingly interesting to focus on the failures and antisocial behaviour of the players. There appears a morbid curiosity and a perverted pleasure obtained by many in the fall from grace of high profile athletes; be they active or retired. It is more saleable and as the media is driven not by altruism but by ratings, the advertising dollar, ‘one-upmanship’ etc., it makes good financial sense to expose these barbaric acts. Similarly, the general public, armed with the belief in the inherent ‘bad’ in the sportsman have their senses heightened as to the probability of witnessing the manifestation of the subsequent antisocial behaviour, even if it’s to the point of provocation. Technology has advanced to a point where surveillance and personal recording devices are in the hands of most people, making everyone part of the action and part of the story.


We, as a society, have developed a penchant for the derivation of pleasure from both the good & bad in the athlete’s life. We admire then admonish; we deify yet denigrate; we love, we loathe; we build and yet we are so willing to tear down. It is akin to ancient Rome and the Coliseum. If he survives, we cheer. If he does not, we cheer. The entertainment value is the same. We live our lives vicariously through the player, or similar profile individual, lifting them to the lofty heights of quasi-idolatry. They answer a need in the average person; a need to be accomplished and successful, perfect in every way. We project our own wish fulfillment upon them and are then justifiably outraged and personally ‘crushed’ when this individual ‘falls’ and is seen to be all too human. Our indignation & castigation is righteous and just. They must be punished, they have destroyed my myth; they have personally insulted me and let me down.


Not all of us place the ‘idol’ on such a lofty pedestal. There are some who resent their stature and await the satisfaction of their demise, gleefully applauding and taking perverse pleasure in seeing them humiliated and denigrated.


In both scenarios the individual sportsperson is the commodity of the product that is tainted. It is their life that is affected; it is they that will have to bear the brunt of their ‘crime’ and the repercussions of their actions, both privately and publicly. This fascination for both the good and the bad in the sport is confirmed by the crowd numbers attending games, the television ratings for games & ‘exposes’ of misbehaviour. If anything, they have improved. How is this possible if the general public is seriously outraged and offended?


This however is not to assume that Rugby League players are somehow different from anybody else; alien or perhaps genetically unique, they are in fact exactly the same as every other human being. They have the same emotions, psychological and physical frailties and grow & develop through the same processes as each and every individual. What does differentiate them largely from the general population is the lifestyle and the associated pressures and stressors that accompany the sport. This, by the way, applies to many other ‘high profile’ sports. 


Each of us develops mechanisms or techniques to cope with the ‘ups & downs’ of life. We make mistakes and we, hopefully, learn from them. We model ourselves on our parents or significant others and we use the skills employed by others as a means of adapting, modifying and adjusting our skills according to our own personality type and basic psychological structure. Most of this occurs without any conscious effort. It is somehow created as a result of the influences & experiences of the developing person, taking into consideration genetic factors & serious life events. 


Since we are allowed to make mistakes and err, as do all people, we tend not to ‘beat up’ on ourselves. The Rugby League player, being under scrutiny by the coach, the club, the media, the sponsors & general public, is not that free to make the same errors. The stress resulting from the expectations of others can be played out in many and varied ways. It can also result in depression & other major problems. 


Why is it that some players can’t seem to cope? I mean, they have the world at their feet. They get paid to play their chosen sport & fulfill their passion. They are generally adored and idolized by the fans. They have lifestyles that to many of us, seem wonderfully perfect and something to be envied. 


The answer lies in the capacity to cope with everyday life, not just as a professional or semi-professional sportsperson, but as a simple human being. If you have not developed the necessary abilities to solve or address basic and fundamental issues of life, then you will experience the same emotional & psychological response as any average citizen. Being ‘high profile’ and apparently ‘having everything’ you desire does not negate or replace ‘normal’ everyday feelings or make you immune from everyday life issues. It can be very disturbing and ‘lonely’ not being able to manage basic emotions and seemingly simple problem solving. Pride & the self perception of ‘toughness’ can often inhibit the player from talking to another who might be able to help. It may also be that the player might not even recognize the problem exists.


Younger players are being sought for clubs, through identification programs & ‘spotters’. Agents are always on the look out for ‘the next big thing’ and money & promises of a full and rich life follow our young players as the means to a ‘better’ & ‘easier’ life. Certainly parents would no doubt welcome the opportunity for an education subsidized by a club or the league and want only the very best for their kids, as would any loving parent. Distance & financial constraints can often disadvantage many young people and yet here is a sport offering something that otherwise would not be possible. Who wouldn’t embrace the concept of scholarships, contracts & financial incentives?  


Being able to meet you heroes and train with them & the club, given a few training shirts, jerseys, bags, shoes, caps etc. and a ‘few bucks’ thrown your way does not mean you ‘have made it’, that you are part of the club’s plans or that the player manager’s financial future rests solely with you.  


The reality unfortunately is that many who believe they will ‘make it’ or whose parents think along the same lines, don’t actually get there. The promises of the player managers, agents & spotters and even the clubs are contingent upon a young players’ performance, potential, skill development, maturity as a player & a person and according to the club’s needs. The sheer number of variables attached to the notion of a career in league should make most wary of devoting ‘everything’ they have toward this goal. The other fact one needs to be reminded of is that Rugby League is a business. Those who draw their incomes from the business require a non-emotional objectivity. This is not to mean they are necessarily mercenary & uncaring, though they’re not philanthropists, volunteers or charity organizations either.  


Neglect of educational needs and personal developmental needs will culminate in reduced opportunity in later life – vocationally & socially. The basic abilities & skills required to survive can be impaired and insufficiently developed; thus leading to possible major psychological & social problems. 


We have developed into a society of extremes. The gulf between those who have much and those who have little is ever expanding. Financial pressures, occupational pressures, educational pressures, sporting pressures etc. etc. The pace of our lives is increasing with many falling by the wayside as a consequence of not being able to ‘keep up’. Whether it is the older generation, or those left behind educationally, technologically or socially, many are experiencing the associated loss of contribution, belonging & self. Those with a mental illness are even worse off, being unstable and afflicted to begin with. 


The increase in escapism for temporary relief from life’s pressures no longer involves a week or two at the beach with the family. Drug & alcohol abuse and other related abuse & addictions are becoming a ‘quick fix’, ‘shut it all out’ means of dealing with life. It may be to ‘numb’, ‘temporarily forget’ ‘displace’ or ‘escape’ life or to simply ‘feel good’, but it doesn’t come with any effort of will. 


We live in a ‘fast food’ society and are developing a ‘fast food’ mentality. If you feel hungry, don’t bother buying what you need, preparing it, cooking it, waiting and then consuming; you just drive through, place an order, dine out,; whatever. If this very basic need; food & the subsequent hunger, can be met in such a rudimentary & simplistic way, then the flow on effect into other areas of our lives is inevitable. I feel down; have a drink, go out, take a pill. I’m angry; hit someone, break something, drink, smoke. I’m ‘strapped for cash’; go to the pokies, go to the TAB or races, put it on the plastic, borrow or steal. “I’m gonna have a good time tonight”; pop that pill, snort that stuff, smoke that shit”. 


Without being overly facetious, the slogan for ‘sun protection’ (Slip, Slop, Slap) could be changed & adapted to current behaviour for ‘emotional protection’ – SMOKE, SNORT, SWALLOW.   


Life is difficult, complex & multifaceted; and life is about choice. These are two (2) facts that define us as human beings. Human existence consists of both ‘Physical’ & ‘Psychological’ spheres (‘social’ is incorporated under psychological in this instance). Having a genetic basis for life, we then develop & grow, being moulded and structured according to the input & ‘role modelling’ of others and the messages we receive from the world around us. Whatever your opinion might be on various matters pertaining to life whether it be beliefs, theories, ideas, knowledge, these basic facts are consistent & true.  


You may hold spiritual beliefs that are also incorporated; that’s fine. You might lean more heavily toward a belief in the genetic ‘makeup’ of a person (personality etc.), as opposed to the developmental models (nature v nurture) or vice versa. Again, this is not contrary to the points mentioned above and can also be accommodated. 


What is suggested is that it would be very difficult to state that life is easy & simple, or that we have no ability to choose, or that physical & psychological aspects to existence are not real or that we don’t develop, grow & mature and the involvement of others within our lives (parents, teachers, coaches etc.) is irrelevant. It is basic commonsense & clearly visible to all. 


If we can accept these facts, then we can start to understand why problems can occur & how we can go about solving these problems.  


The various governments around the country should be applauded for their acknowledgement of issues involving drug & alcohol abuse and other social dilemmas and mental illnesses such as depression & suicide; however they are treating the symptoms, not the cause. Perhaps this is because the causes are so entrenched in the very fabric of our current society & culture that it becomes far too overwhelming a task. Given also that it might reflect family & personal areas, the risk of intruding might too give cause for ignoring the issue. How do governments effect ‘social change’ for the better? When they can answer this, they are significantly closer to achieving their goals. 


There will always be a need for treatment of symptoms, but to intervene & educate earlier; to increase awareness and re-establish sound, healthy developmental process navigation for the individual will prevent many of the tragedies to which we have become far too accustomed.  


Please click here for full list of Rugby League Incidents

(unfortunately the list is growing)


This video is included, not purely for entertainment value but to indicate a type of attitude that exists among many within society regarding what's important. Despite having been written, recorded, released & performed in the 1970's, it appears not much has changed. For those to whom it relates, please substitute the lyrics; 'Rock & Roll' with 'Rugby League' & one might see where many misplaced priorities & attitudes toward life might lie. Now is the time for 're-evaluation' of what & who is important; of what matters in the context of life; of the repercussions of any of these misplaced priorities & values. 

Sex & Drugs and Rock & Roll - Ian Dury & the 'Blockheads'



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Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D., FICPP
Senior Psychologist/Director
ADC Psychological Services, PLLC
1728 Broadway, Suite 1
Hewlett, NY 11557







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