Australian Broadcasting Corporation  



Broadcast: 05/02/2007 

Rugbyleague stars coached in behaviour 

Reporter: Mark Bannerman 

KERRY O’BRIEN: Football fans might be looking forward to the pre season getting under way, but it's a mixed blessing for the clubs. Pre seasons haven't been great news for football codes, often. Trips away have ended in scandal, and no code knows that better than Rugby League. The NRL has been working hard to shake off that bad boy image, starting a program to educate its rising stars about responsibilities to a game that is now a major business. To see this program first hand, the NRL gave Mark Bannerman access to its rookie camp for this report.

BRETT SEYMOUR, CRONULLA SHARKS: Rugby League to me is me life and I really enjoy it. It's something my father did, it's got me to where I am now, so Rugby League is very much part of me.

MARK BANNERMAN: When Brett Seymour tells you Rugby League is his life, he really means it. Playing for the Brisbane Broncos, he was a rising star.

COMMENTATOR: And he says, thank you very much.

MARK BANNERMAN: But a night out at this Brisbane hotel, too much alcohol resulted in two women making allegations of assaults against him.

BRETT SEYMOUR: And they made a complaint to the bouncers claiming that I'd punched them and slapped them and used abusive language, which I'd understand, I did use abusive language and I'm sorry for that. But in no way or in no term did I raise a hand or strike the girls.

MARK BANNERMAN: A few weeks later Seymour was cleared of the assault allegations, but it was too late. He'd been sacked by the Broncos, who went on to win a premiership. Given a second chance by the Cronulla Sharks, he says he's learned a lot in a short time.

BRETT SEYMOUR: It taught me a lot, that a young guy can be singled out and he can be brought down to scale by what went on, one incident, and I just hope it doesn't happen to any other young guy in the NRL.

MARK BANNERMAN: Brett Seymour's story isn't unique. In recent years, Rugby League has been rocked by a series of scandals off field. But now it says it has an answer the NRL rookie camp.

TRAINER: Keep going, lads, come on. Work hard, work hard, work hard.

MARK BANNERMAN: In the coming days these rising stars will be tested physically, mentally and ethically. First, the good news.

MICHAEL BEUTTNER, NRL: Welcome to the NRL. This is what's ahead of you and, if you're prepared to embrace it, you're going to get a lot out of the game.

KAREN WILLIS, NSW RAPE CRISIS CENTRE: You're going to be on the TV, you're going to be admired and, yes, you will be offered sex. Probably more sex, by more women, than at any other time in your life.

TOM SIMPSON, DRUG AND ALCOHOL COUNSELLOR: Boys, if you want to drink, be responsible. If you go out binge drinking, sooner or later you’re going to get yourselves into trouble.

MARK BANNERMAN: The first hurdle is media training.

TRAINER: So what we’re going to do now is, we're going to walk up to this camera. We're going to see who we are, we’re going to say one thing about ourselves.

PLAYER: I can't wait for the season to start.

PLAYER: I'm Mark, I play for Manly and I don't mind a beer.

MARK BANNERMAN: If these rookies feel confronted by a TV camera, it is only the start of their shock treatment.

TOM SIMPSON: I wouldn't drink sometimes for two months and then I'd pick up a drink and then I'd drink for three days.

MARK BANNERMAN: It's now clear to the NRL that football players and alcohol can be an explosive combination.

TOM SIMPSON: I came out and hit a milk truck, blind drunk. Another time I hit a telegraph pole and I was really fortunate I wasn't killed.

MARK BANNERMAN: Today these rookies will hear Tom Simpson's story; they’ll hear how he fulfilled his dream of playing for South Sydney, only to lose his career in a bottle.

TOM SIMPSON: I never ever got to the tenth of my potential, through alcohol.

MARK BANNERMAN: How does that make you feel now?

TOM SIMPSON: Well, I guess I've learnt over the years it's no good, I can't change the past. I can only hopefully look back and learn from it, and part of me speaking to these places and rookie camps is to try and pass on some of that information to the boys so hopefully they can learn from it.

MARK OFFERDAHL, MANLY WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES: Day after a game I'd binge drink massively and coming from the country, that's how we're brought up, that's how everyone does it. I don't know anyone that wouldn't drink out there. I still do it here but I've just learnt to control myself.

JOE PICKER, CANBERRA RAIDERS: If you've walked out of that room and it hasn't impacted you, well, you sort of haven't listened, I don't think.

MARK BANNERMAN: If alcohol is a problem, sex and sport can really grab a headline. Today the rookies will work with a team from Sydney University and the Rape Crisis Centre and their views on sexuality will be challenged.

KAREN WILLIS: Can't tell them rules, because rules don't apply to humans in our interrelations. But what we can do is get them to think ethically about their sexual practices.

MARK BANNERMAN: Each group gets a simple scenario. The team goes on a night out. Some of the players, though, go home early, but the next morning they see their team mates looking at phone photos that show them having sex with a woman who appears to be unconscious. What should they do?

MARK OFFERDAHL: Oh, mate, personally with that question I wouldn't say a word. I'd just stay right out of it.

SHANE NEUMANN, MANLY WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES: Usually before I would probably just keep it on the download and not say anything to anyone, but now I would probably go to one of the senior players that wasn't involved and just double check things and make sure it wasn’t, like, anything criminal.

KAREN WILLIS: The NRL has said, "We don't accept violence against women, and we think this is wrong," and they are a large male dominated organisation who's stepped up to the mark and said quite clearly, "We will be doing something about this, we will be changing our culture. We will be educating our players. We will be setting protocols in place, and we will do everything we can to stop violence against women within our game."

MARK BANNERMAN: There's little doubt there are some great advantages to being an elite sportsperson, but it's also true that many of these people live in a kind of bubble and it can create problems for them. The National Rugby League realises this, and it's taken that on board. The last port of call in this rookie camp is Sydney's Cruising Yacht Club. The idea is to get the players out on the water, not alone, but with disabled sailors and some young kids.

MICHAEL BEUTTNER: It's probably the opportunity for the guys to put into practice what they've learnt over the last two days about working within the community, the fact that they're role models in the community and what effect they can have on these people.

MARK BANNERMAN: There's little doubt the plan works. None of these players have done this kind of thing before and, if nothing else, it makes it clear just how privileged they are.

MARK BANNERMAN: What, if anything, have you learned today?

MARK OFFERDAHL: Over the past two days, how to talk to people, how to interact with people and that and just putting it into practice now.

MARK BANNERMAN: Is it worthwhile?

MARK OFFERDAHL: Yeah, mate, yeah.

MARK BANNERMAN: It's easy to be cynical about an exercise like this. In effect, the NRL is saying, "Three days at a university can help change a culture". Certainly, Brett Seymour believes the rookie camp may have helped him avoid trouble. As it happened, though, he had to graduate from the university of hard knocks, and he hasn't forgotten the lessons.

MARK BANNERMAN: When you're out there in the community, do you see yourself differently now?

BRETT SEYMOUR: Yeah, I do. I see myself as a role model for younger kids and I see that if you can give them, anyone, good advice and tell them something that, I guess, some experiences you've learnt from and pass them on, that just puts people in good stead and yourself. 




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