Rugby league needs to make a stand

Crowd at Eels v Tigers game. Photo: NRL.com

OPINION: Rugby league is back in the media for all the wrong reasons at the moment.

And the game needs to take a very long, hard look at itself.

It is time to stop giving out ‘redemption’ stories. This should not be our image, and it should never be again.

A former player, who will remain unnamed, was convicted of a heinous crime and sentenced to at least three and a half years in prison.

In defence of this player, another player had their contract torn up in a strong stance by North American Rugby League club New York. Another player is being reviewed by their club in England.

Despite all of this, the game needs to say – enough is enough.

Convicted criminals have been allowed to play NRL football. One player was booed every time they touched the ball before the COVID-19 break because of a terrible crime they committed. And rightly so.

It is time rugby league puts victims first. It is time rugby league becomes a safe space for every single person.

It is time rugby league realised that this is political. There are young men watching and they will follow the lead of NRL players – they look up to them whether you like it or not.

Former Clive Churchill Medalist and NRL premiership winner Willie Mason, who plied his trade for the Bulldogs, was a polarising player. A win at all costs, tough player.

Last week, he committed the toughest act. Speaking up.

He said that anyone convicted of a domestic violence offence should be banned from the game forever.

And I agree.

Playing professional sport is a privilege. It is not, and never will be, a right. If you are good at kicking a footy around, you should be given societal special treatment.

Over the past few years, some players – players with convictions – have been given second chances. The NRL needs to stop this entirely.

There is room for redemption when the outside world sees rugby league as a sport for thugs and criminals.

We have a NRLW competition on the rise, more women entering the commentary space and female referees both in the NRL and through the ranks.

We have mothers, sisters, nieces and aunties playing footy every weekend.

They all deserve to feel safe. They all deserve to make their way through the ranks with no outdated viewpoints.

Lets come together as a rugby league community and safe ‘enough is enough’.

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