Published 20 May 2008
THE saddest thing is that I wasn’t surprised. No, scratch that. The saddest thing is that none of us were surprised that we weren’t surprised. Most of us didn’t even think about it. We just trotted out our knee-jerk reactions, tut-tutted, finger-pointed, rolled our eyes and went on with our business.
Soon another incident will surface that we won’t even bother to file under “scandal” due to the frequency of these episodes. A scandal, after all, is something that shocks us.
Like everyone I’d got a whiff of a bunch of footy maggots and a young girl in a hotel room. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t take much notice. Sexual abuse and football? What next? Horse racing and cruelty? Yawn.
At the urging of many, I watched it all. The Four Corners report on rugby league’s sick pathology relating to sex, women and alcohol. The Footy Show’s pre-emptive strike aired a few days before Four Corners, in which rugby league legend Matthew Johns (who was named in the ABC report) fessed up and apologised – to his wife and family – and was then patted on the back with a “Well said, mate”, from Fatty Vautin. Tracey Grimshaw’s searing interview with Johns.
And, finally, I watched Johns’ colleague Phil Gould on The Footy Show a few days after the Grimshaw interview. Gould spoke of this being “the sledgehammer the game deserves” after “so many wake-up calls yet no one wakes up”. Gould then went on to lavish praise on the courage of Johns and his wife, Trish, for allowing themselves to be interviewed, almost ignoring the plight of the victim. When it finished, I felt as if I had swum through a lake of shit.
And let me answer that next question before you ask it. No, we haven’t heard enough about the football-pack-sex broken-young-girl business.
Our society is in denial about the massive and destructive impact jock culture has on the broader culture. American writer Robert Lipsyte defines jock culture as “the values of the arena and the locker room (which) have been imposed on our national life”. Lipsyte identifies the jock’s sense of entitlement and the belief he is beyond the law, a consequence of “blind adulation from fans, coaches and the media”. He goes on to say that “jocks who subscribe to its values feel the constant necessity to prove their manhood, and the best way to do this is by having sex with a woman”.
Clearly, many jocks feel that the best way to bond as a team is to all have sex with the same woman.
It’s time we admitted and discussed this reality and found ways to promote a healthier attitude in football towards gender and sexuality. No number of footballers running through paper banners or sitting in open-top cars in parades with their children is making any difference. Nor is any number of highly skilled and informed, yet ultimately token, women on footy shows or on boards of football clubs.
The now-even-greyer territory between power, responsibility, consent and vulnerability in sex needs to be negotiated. “No means no” suggests the question is simply one of yes or no, and that’s a simplistic reaction to a complex question. Women’s more assertive and comfortable attitude towards sex, combined with the impact of raunch culture, which has diminished the taboo and increased the accessibility of the sex industry, means it’s time for a rethink.
Equally, the days when it was socially accepted that women were the gatekeepers of males’ supposedly rampant and uncontrollable sexuality are, or should be, long gone. “Don’t walk round in your nightie when Uncle Brian’s here” – the subtext being that he can’t control himself and nor is it his responsibility to do so – is just not good enough. Never was.
The nasty collision of hormones, egos, psyches and alcohol aired in this incident suggests to me that we need public awareness programs and perhaps a manual. God knows men love a manual. The Rudd Government’s recent commitment of $42 million for “respectful relationships” training in schools is a start. Not a great start, but a start.
It also suggests we need to rewrite the rules. The rules that the girl involved “broke” by speaking out. The rules that had the blokes involved apologising – not for what they did, but for being sprung.
These blokes are used to rules; they play by them on the field all the time. But they clearly need a new set to govern their off-the-field behaviour. Rules that need to be enforced by shame. Their shame, not hers.
They may or may not have committed rape as the law understands it, but what they did amounts to spiritual rape. And for that they should be held truly accountable.