South Sydney NRL player George Burgess claims the off-field behaviour of NRL players in the current era is equal to the behaviour of players in the past.
Burgess told the media that,
“Player behaviour is probably as good as I’ve seen it over the years…”
Is he correct?
Yes and no.
If we consider his use of the word “good”, then the statement is clearly false. The behaviour of many players is not good now, and it was not good in the past.
If we take the liberty of paraphrasing Burgess’ comments, they are true. If the Englishman is claiming that the behaviour of current players is comparable to that of players in the past, then he is correct.
NRL players have always misbehaved.
Evidence to prove the historical misbehaviour of NRL players can be found in The Frownlow Medal, a satirical award given to the player, from NRL, AFL, Super Rugby and the A-League, who commits the worst off-field scandal in any year. The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame recognises the off-field scandals of players in previous years and retired players.
Since the inception of The Frownlow Medal in 2015, 153 Rugby League players have been nominated for the medal and the hall of fame, and the first three winners were NRL players Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Corey Norman and Tim Simona, while the 2018 medallist was former NRL player and code-swapper Karmichael Hunt.
NRL players have been nominated for relatively minor actions, such as ill-conceived social media posts, and for more severe actions that have landed a number of them in prison. In fact, Burgess himself was nominated for the medal in 2016 for posting a photo of himself on social media while driving, and for an inappropriate tweet.
Burgess also defended the actions of players when he said,
“Obviously, it’s just more reported on these days.”
There is also some truth to this statement. Footballers from the major codes were traditionally protected from negative publicity through the complicit and unspoken agreement between players/clubs and the media. Many journalists were also drinking buddies of the players and were wiling to ignore a scandal out of friendship or in return for access to that player, or another player from the same club, in the future.
However, times have changed.
Footballers traditionally appeared only in the sports section, or the news section, of major news bulletins. Now that sport is a source of entertainment and a business players can appear in the sport, news, entertainment, social, lifestyle, business and even real estate section of a news bulletin. This brings a greater diversity of reporters to the coverage of sport and its participants; reporters who have less direct contact with players and clubs. It had also seen more women covering sport, and women are less likely to forgive or overlook incidents, especially if they involve the mistreatment of women.
That said, it is often the players themselves who generate their own negative publicity through their use of social media and essentially gift a story to the press.
Burgess then attempted to qualify his statement, and distract the public from the endless scandals that have plagued the code in the 2018/19 off-season, when he said,
“There’s some fantastic role models”
This statement explains why footballers are criticised so much when they are discovered to be misbehaving. As long as Australian society holds up footballers, and other athletes, as role models to young people, their actions will be scrutinised much more heavily than the actions of normal citizens.
To find out how 153 Rugby League players came to be nominated for the most prestigious award in Australian sport, go to http://www.instagram.com/thefrownlowmedal.