Sober warning to clean up attitudes  

 

BY DAVID JEAN AND MEGAN DOHERTY 

 

14/03/2009 9:04:00 AM 

 

Paul Osborne is sick of having to sit down and talk to his children every time rugby league is rocked by another alcohol-related incident involving a high-profile player.  

As far as the former Canberra Raiders premiership player, rugby league commentator and one-time Independent MLA is concerned, it happens far too often.  

And after another week where off-field controversy has dominated league headlines, it's hard to argue.  

In the past eight days, Manly pin-up Brett Stewart has been charged with sexual assault, his teammate Anthony Watmough fined for an altercation with a club sponsor and former Raider Todd Carney convicted on two separate vandalism charges. Alcohol played a big part in the troubles of all three.  

For Osborne it seems incidents such as these are just another part of the build-up to an NRL season.  

And the father of nine says it is sending the wrong message to kids about acceptable social behaviour.  

''It seems to be that we start every season with a new advertisement, a new launch and a new sexual assault allegation against somebody,'' Osborne said.  

''It's just dumb, it's just ridiculous and I can't believe that the message isn't getting through some of these boneheads' thick skulls.  

''Alcohol is a big factor.  

''Whether people like to admit it or not, footballers are treated differently and they live in a little world where they think they can do whatever they like. Unfortunately the combination of that and alcohol just takes them to a place like this.  

''There's just no excuse.''  

It's been a tumultuous time for the NRL.  

It has had to defend itself against claims it is being inconsistent by overruling Manly to suspend Stewart for four games, while not taking the same attitude to other players such as Gold Coast Titans back-rower Anthony Laffranchi when he was charged with sexual assault (later to be cleared of the allegation).  

NRL chief David Gallop on The Footy Show this week was unapologetic.  

He said Stewart's suspension was due to him disrespecting his role as the face of the NRL's 2009 marketing campaign by allegedly being drunk and refused service at Manly's season launch. 

He maintained it was not due to the alleged sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl following the launch.

  

The dramatic address to all NRL players by Paul ''Fatty'' Vautin at the opening of The Footy Show, when he implored the ''morons'' of the game to get their act together, was another stark reminder that those who love rugby league have had enough.  

 

The latest scandal has led to a debate about alcohol bans for players, at a time when the game is drenched in alcohol sponsorship, whether it's Local Liquor's support of the Raiders or Bundaberg Rum holding the naming rights to Monday night football. 

 

There's also wider concerns about whether league has been dealt a body blow when it is facing competition for supporters and players from other football codes. 

 

Celebrity spruiker Max Markson advocates a hard line, saying the NRL brand has taken a battering.  

''I think it's definitely been tarnished,'' Markson said.  

 

''I definitely think the NRL needs to take a much stronger lead, and the clubs.  

 

''The solution for my mind is to get the players to stop drinking during the season.  

 

''Elite athletes shouldn't be drinking. Full stop. I'm not talking about sponsorship, I'm not talking about the officials. All I'm saying is if you're in a first grade squad, if the coach says don't drink, you don't drink.''  

 

Markson does not agree the media coverage of the Stewart affair has been over the top. 

 

''Not it's not. How many footballers behaving badly do we need to have before we realise there's a problem? It's not good for the game. It's not an example to set to kids to come into the game.'' 

 

Yet Civil Liberties Australia chief executive officer Bill Rowlings believes Stewart's case smacks of trial by media.  

 

''Sportspeople need to behave properly and the fact they are getting paid large amounts of money doesn't mean that they don't have the responsibility for honouring the civil liberties of other people,'' he said. ''The other issue is they have their own civil rights and Australia has a legal system that should safeguard them so they are treated as innocent until proven guilty.'' 

 

Sydney academic Professor Catharine Lumby has advised the NRL for five years on how to improve the off-field behaviour of players, including their attitudes to women.  

 

She is not opposed to an alcohol ban, but says it's not the panacea.  

 

''I think we have to get to the attitudes that promote the behaviours. There are a lot of people you could put a lot of alcohol into who are not going to assault a woman or demean her in public,'' she said.  

 

''These sorts of behaviours occur as a result of attitudes that there are good women and women you can do anything with, trashy women. Or 'my needs or my urges have a priority over women's humanity'.  

 

''There's clearly a problem in the NRL, let's not fudge that. But I think you could go down to any big city in Australia on a Saturday night to find big groups of men who are drunk saying totally inappropriate things to women and exhibiting what I would call frankly a misogynist attitude towards women.'' 

 

Lumby says the NRL education programs are starting to target younger players before they reach first grade. She wants similar programs to start in high schools across Australia.  

 

Public servant Lauren Clayton, 29, has been a member of the Canberra Raiders' supporters team the Raiders Army since she was 13. She loves the excitement of the game, but feels let down by the latest scandals.  

 

She has to defend herself because she is a league supporter.  

 

''It's generally from union or AFL supporters with short memories who seem to forget that no code is immune from similar controversies,'' she said.  

''But it does suck when they pick up more anti-league ammunition.''  

 

As a young woman and despite all the scandals, she says there is still enough in the game to keep her support. 

 

''You can't tar all with the same brush. And there are still players like Alan Tongue who make me truly proud to be a Raiders and rugby league fan,'' she said.  

 

Osborne's his eldest son, Jacob, is a passionate Raiders supporter. One of Jacob's idols is Carney, who the Raiders sacked last year after a string of alcohol-related incidents. While Osborne has been a mentor for Carney even taking him on a post-season trip to Rwanda last year he said if the 22-year-old couldn't get off the grog he had no hope. 

 

In some ways he believes the same of the entire NRL. 

 

''Todd's a nice kid, but he's a disaster waiting to happen.

  

''He's just got to get off the grog, he's got no choice.  

 

''His only hope is to stay sober.

  

''I think alcohol is a big issue, not just in rugby league, but in society.  

 

''Drinking is a problem in footy and I personally would have no problem with the NRL saying, 'If you want to play our game you can't drink'.''  

 

Sydney academic Professor Catharine Lumby has advised the NRL for five years on how to improve the off-field behaviour of players, including their attitudes to women.  

 

She is not opposed to an alcohol ban, but says it's not the panacea.  

 

''I think we have to get to the attitudes that promote the behaviours. There are a lot of people you could put a lot of alcohol into who are not going to assault a woman or demean her in public,'' she said.  

 

''These sorts of behaviours occur as a result of attitudes that there are good women and women you can do anything with, trashy women. Or 'my needs or my urges have a priority over women's humanity'. 

 

''There's clearly a problem in the NRL, let's not fudge that. But I think you could go down to any big city in Australia on a Saturday night to find big groups of men who are drunk saying totally inappropriate things to women and exhibiting what I would call frankly a misogynist attitude towards women.''

  

Lumby says the NRL education programs are starting to target younger players before they reach first grade. She wants similar programs to start in high schools across Australia. 

 

Public servant Lauren Clayton, 29, has been a member of the Canberra Raiders' supporters team the Raiders Army since she was 13. She loves the excitement of the game, but feels let down by the latest scandals.  

 

She has to defend herself because she is a league supporter.  

 

''It's generally from union or AFL supporters with short memories who seem to forget that no code is immune from similar controversies,'' she said.  

''But it does suck when they pick up more anti-league ammunition.''  

 

As a young woman and despite all the scandals, she says there is still enough in the game to keep her support.  

''You can't tar all with the same brush. And there are still players like Alan Tongue who make me truly proud to be a Raiders and rugby league fan,'' she said.  

 

Osborne's his eldest son, Jacob, is a passionate Raiders supporter. One of Jacob's idols is Carney, who the Raiders sacked last year after a string of alcohol-related incidents. While Osborne has been a mentor for Carney even taking him on a post-season trip to Rwanda last  

In some ways he believes the same of the entire NRL.  

''Todd's a nice kid, but he's a disaster waiting to happen.  

''He's just got to get off the grog, he's got no choice.  

''His only hope is to stay sober.  

''I think alcohol is a big issue, not just in rugby league, but in society.  

''Drinking is a problem in footy and I personally would have no problem with the NRL saying, 'If you want to play our game you can't drink'.''  

 

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