Let's hear what Inglis says before we rush in to judge

Phil Gould
August 16, 2009

I will talk more about the Greg Inglis situation when we have more of the facts.

I see no reason at this stage to join the throng of social commentators that have prejudged, convicted and punished the kid before the courts have heard all the relevant evidence and reached an informed verdict based on the facts of this unfortunate case.

Some people can't wait to stick the boot into rugby league at every opportunity even though rugby league is neither the cause nor the catalyst for such behaviour.

Unfortunately incidents of the like are all too common in society these days and all major sporting bodies around the world are contending with the media frenzy that surrounds off-field problems involving their high-profile sports stars - not just rugby league.

I was, however, interested in comments made by Professor Ian Hickie, a mental health expert from the University of Sydney, who has been seconded by the Melbourne Storm to assist them in the management of this delicate matter.

Hickie was quoted as saying: ''The media has an overwhelming duty to respect [this situation] and not place undue pressure on the parties involved, especially Sally [Robinson, Inglis's girlfriend].

''Given the sensitive nature of the matter it is imperative that media outlets demonstrate responsible journalism. The media must be extremely careful with this extremely sensitive issue.''

Hickie is obviously highly intelligent and very experienced in such matters. I doubt, though, that he would have intimate knowledge of how our game is regularly attacked and mishandled by the media, or how sensitive the NRL is to these bad news situations.

The media swarms in not because a young man has done something wrong, but because he is a footballer who has done something wrong.

The NRL and NRL clubs immediately react to the negative media coverage, more often than not without full knowledge of the facts or the accused being given sufficient opportunity to defend or explain his actions.

This whole damage-control, avoid-criticism, please-the-media-and-the-sponsors style of crisis management has to stop. The players are too often prejudged, tried and punished before the matter even hits the courts.

The NRL has also been bullied into taking action on matters that don't concern it. I will talk more about this at another time as well.

Just because these blokes sign rugby league contracts doesn't mean the NRL owns the entirety of their private lives and the problems they face. In many instances, our courts adequately administer fines and punishments without the NRL having to add its frustration to the situation. In some cases the player hasn't even faced a charge because the offence was neither proven nor considered overly serious.

At other times the NRL and media have reacted without allowing due process in the court systems to take place before a more measured response can be administered.

No one condones illegal or violent behaviour. However, due process should be acknowledged before we are panicked into the politically correct knee-jerk reactions our clubs and governing body seem to make just to appease the media frenzy.

We don't support or show enough compassion to our people, but instead hang them out to dry.

As an organisation, many of our responses are emotional, inconsistent, haphazard and unprofessional.

As I said, I will talk more about this in the coming weeks.

MEN OF LEAGUE

One of the best emails I received this week came from former ARL administrator Bob Abbott, AM.

Bob had plenty to say about the current administration of the game and the urgent need for change.

He also had a great suggestion on one way the very successful Men of League Foundation could assist the younger players of today and help them handle the pressures of professional football and increased public scrutiny.

The Men of League involves all the retired players who have participated over the years as pro footballers. The foundation was formed with the charter of assisting those from all levels of the rugby league family who, for various reasons, have fallen on hard times.

They also run a scholarship scheme that finds careers for young rugby league players who have suffered career-ending injuries or are unable to realise their playing ambitions.

The work conducted by the Men of League has been nothing short of outstanding, but Abbott suggests the former players involved in the Men of League can do even more for the modern-day players.

He writes: ''I believe there is an enormous wealth of untapped talent and integrity within the MOL Foundation that could form a committee that would encourage respect and discipline among our players - particularly the younger ones, as they are the future ambassadors of our game.

''Involved with the foundation, we have men who have given a lifetime of support and development to our game. These men could advise, support and assist at a level of understanding that all players would respect.

''Many players today unfortunately seem to have forgotten that the game has given them an opportunity to present themselves as decent, law-abiding citizens and enhance their image through this national sporting organisation. Perhaps the ready glamour and affluence within the game sometimes can overstate its importance in the mainstream of society, thus exposing them to unsavoury media attention.

''The MOL, with such a committee, can through their experience, offer mentor support and advice to curtail the many ills confronting players and ensure the behavioural standards of the highest order be maintained.

''I truly believe that a committee from within could be a great advantage to our young players and their future."

I like the sound of such a mentor program involving the experienced members of the Men of League organisation. It's worth a try.

Personally, I think if the Men of League merged with the current day Rugby League Players Association, it could form a powerful and prosperous alliance for all concerned.

SECOND-TIER COMPETITION

Next week I want to discuss the decaying state of our second-tier competition here in NSW.

The introduction of the national under-20 competition has been an outstanding success. However, it was never envisaged that this elite junior level should replace the old reserve grade/premier league competition that played such a vital part in the development pathway for the senior professional competition.

The creation of the national youth competition has given most NRL clubs an excuse to cut costs and remove this important level of development from our game. This has left rugby league, particularly here in NSW, with a second-tier structure that is totally inadequate and failing to meet the requirements our game's needs.

The current competition is simply not up to standard. As a result, NRL clubs are left without sufficient experienced depth in their football programs and too many players are being lost to the game.

The current NRL/ARL management structure is not capable of dealing with this serious problem, increasing the need for one governing body to be established to oversee the running of rugby league in this country.

Seems to me we've heard this song before. We'll discuss this in more detail next week.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2009/08/15/1249756481140.html