The people who work in this game, or who rely on this game as a trading partner for their businesses, are sweating on the resumption of play so they can return to their jobs. If the players are stupid enough to expose themselves to the virus then many people will suffer.
Players need to understand that their health, discipline and behaviour will be held to a higher standard. If you want to complain about the reduced pay packet you have been offered for season 2020, think about how much you are going to get if rugby league is not played again this season.
Grow up, pull your bloody heads in and get with the program.
There is no doubt there’s a distinct difference between the Cleary incident and that of Addo-Carr and Mitchell issue. However, there is no difference in stupidity.
When Cleary first apologised for his behaviour and explained that this was an unplanned event, I could somewhat understand what had occurred. It seemed innocent enough. But there is no doubt he should have been more vigilant and not allowed the girls to enter his home on Anzac Day, even for only a short time.
He had a responsibility to himself, his teammates, his club and the game. He had to say no. It’s not as though these players hadn’t been given strict instructions about the seriousness of their isolation protocols. It was a dumb decision.
When the TikTok dance videos become public the next day, it totally destroyed any credibility his original explanation may have had. It doesn’t matter what he says now, he will struggle to find anyone believing his story.
I called Nathan after the TikTok videos emerged. We had a lengthy discussion. My first concern was to check he was OK. He’s been around long enough to understand right from wrong. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the media fallout and public backlash.
He was, understandably, shattered. Embarrassed. He wasn’t making excuses. He accepted responsibility. He knew he had let a lot of people down. He admitted to handling the situation badly. None of this happens if he is strong enough to say no to the visitors at the front door.
We spoke about his initial media interview and apology. He knew his credibility was immediately damaged with the release of additional videos. He knows he deserves whatever punishment and criticism is coming his way. He will wear it like a man. What’s important is his actions from this point on. I have no doubt he will make it up to his teammates, his club and the game.
It was a bad day. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad life.
The Addo-Carr and Mitchell breaches were completely different.
By their own admission, this was a planned exercise. They both would have known from the outset that they were breaking the law. Not only were they putting themselves above the rest of the community, but they were disobeying instructions from the NRL and their clubs. With the activities they had planned, they were also putting themselves in danger of serious physical injury, let alone increasing the chances of being exposed to the virus we are all trying to beat.
How would they explain a broken arm or leg as a result of their joy-riding activities? Let alone a shooting accident.
Their antics showed a total disregard for the laws that are in place and the responsibilities they have to this game.
The most sickening part of this sorry saga, was that anyone who publicly criticised the pair was immediately attacked with accusations of racial discrimination because these players also happen be Indigenous. In some sections of social media, this campaign was orchestrated and coordinated. Really nasty stuff.
These outlandish, spiteful and totally unfounded accusations have no place in Australia today and they certainly have no place in the NRL.
This game has a proven record of inclusiveness and respect for all cultures, all heritages and all walks of life. Talk of racism has no place in this discussion whatsoever.
Josh and Latrell apologised immediately after videos of their activities had been revealed on social media. The fact they apologised straight away means they knew right from wrong. They knew it before they went away. They did it anyway.
In my opinion, these three players should have been stood down for the season. I regard these breaches of trust as very serious.
Now, to my final point.
When are footballers going to learn mobile phones, photos and videos are not their friend? If last year’s sex-tape scandals were not enough warning to our players about the dangers of photographing and filming their recreational activities for the world to see, then what will it take to get the message through their thick skulls?
Some of the dumb stuff we witness these days just defies belief.
I’ve been in this game for 45 years. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the best of them and the worst of them. But, honestly, some of the dumb stuff we witness these days just defies belief.
From the time they come into rugby league pathway systems, players are lectured continuously about the dangers of mobile phones and social media. The damage that can be done to their reputations, their families, their clubs and the game itself is enormous.
Yet, as soon as they drift away from the controlled environment of the training field and the dressing room, off goes their heads and on goes a pumpkin. I’m sure plenty of blokes were deleting photos and videos from phones again this week after these players were caught out.
Not all of them obviously. The vast majority are quite responsible and disciplined in their actions. The people who do the right thing are often incredibly frustrated with those who continue to flout the rules and bring the game into disrepute. They may not say it publicly, but that’s how they feel.
The NRL has reached a fork in the road. I’m sure there are times when this has been said before, but at no time in history has it been more accurate.
The respective governments are now raising their eyebrows at our game. They have tentatively given permission to prepare for a competition restart. They will revoke this approval in a heartbeat if someone breaches that trust again.
Sponsors and corporate partners, even the most loyal of them, are shaking their heads. The fans have pretty much had a gutful.
This game and your club are precariously placed financially right now. So, too, are broadcasters, sponsors and members of the public as they deal with the economic fallout of this isolation and lockdown.
The virus thunderbolt that was delivered to our planet only four months ago has changed lives forever: people have lost loved ones; businesses have been destroyed; people who could ill afford it have become unemployed. The recovery period will be long and arduous for these people.
You blokes who play this game are among the lucky ones. You can be a part of the recovery in this country in the way you can inspire, entertain and lift the spirits of our sport-starved public.
Please, stop behaving like selfish, immature boofheads. Start acting like the professionals you profess to be. Work on becoming an asset to this game, our communities and our country in general.
Stay safe and healthy everyone.
Phil Gould is a League Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald