Ben Barba's deregistration from the NRL is a good step, Jessica Halloran writes. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Ben Barba's deregistration from the NRL is a good step, Jessica Halloran writes. Picture: Zak Simmonds

NRL needs to get rid of violent men in league

BEN Barba's expulsion has sent a powerful message, not only to the NRL's footballers but also the general community, that violence against women is unacceptable.

Todd Greenberg has been lauded for his "tough stance" in the axing of Barba, and the NRL boss  deserves praise for finally bucking his and rugby league's trend of giving out second, third, fourth, fifth chances to bad blokes.

To have the privilege of playing in the NRL, not only should you be a good footballer, it really should also be a requirement that you are a good man too. That is, someone that doesn't assault women.

For far too long in this country, across all codes, sportsmen who have behaved violently towards women have been excused despite their awful history.

Footy clubs have recruited knowing full well a player's violent tendencies and, to be honest, covered it up or ignored it because they can play well.

Barba walked into the Broncos, the Sharks and then the Cowboys with a wretched public and private past.

 The photograph that emerged of his partner Ainslie's bloodied face should have been enough to have enough to expelled him from the NRL forever in 2013. It wasn't.

But now Barba has effectively been handed a life ban. It is a strong step in the right direction.

The precedent has been set. But questions must be asked of those domestic violence offenders still playing rugby league today.

In the NRL there are currently four players who have been found guilty or pleaded guilty to domestic violence - and they all still have their playing careers, in some cases, making millions.

One is in line to represent the game on its high-profile and prestigious stage: State of Origin.

NRL boss Todd Greenberg has been lauded for taking a
NRL boss Todd Greenberg has been lauded for taking a "‘tough stance" against Ben Barba. Picture: Adam Yip

How do fans feel that domestic violence offender Matthew Lodge, a member of the Emerging Blues squad, could potentially play Origin?

He is a man found guilty of assaulting his then girlfriend Charlene Saliba as well that New York rampage (where he physically harassed a woman while screaming "this is the night you're going to die", assaulting a man and leaving a nine-year-old fearing for his life).

Are rugby league fans OK with Lodge wearing a Blues jersey?

And what of Jack de Belin, up on aggravated sexual assault charges, an incumbent Blues back-rower? Will he play Origin with such serious allegations against him?

The privilege of playing representative footy should be given only to good, hardworking men, not gutless men who assault women or have extremely serious criminal allegations against them.

The game's brand has been thoroughly trashed this off-season with four footballers charged with violent acts against women (Manly's Dylan Walker allegedly assaulted his fiancee as she cradled their baby), and more must be done to stop it happening.

 Manly player Dylan Walker and partner Alexandra Ivkovic leave court in December last year. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Manly player Dylan Walker and partner Alexandra Ivkovic leave court in December last year. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Last December, ARL chairman Peter Beattie instructed commissioner Professor Megan Davis to review the NRL's current education and wellbeing programs focused on the prevention of violence against women.

Greenberg's hardline stance on player misbehaviour and stipulation that "sanctions will be extremely strong, especially for violence against women" is outstanding.

But what is also needed is a formalised, personal-conduct policy - signed by all players and club officials. A personal-conduct policy with firm, consistent penalties that reinforces a zero tolerance of violence against women.

One of the only sports codes in the world with set domestic violence penalties is the US's NFL. Under the NFL's policy it "is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime".

It states: "Even if the conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, players found to have engaged in any of the following conduct will be subject to discipline" - the prohibited conduct listed includes family violence, child abuse and sexual assault.

The NFL's personal-conduct policy stipulates a first-time offence of domestic violence will result in a six-game suspension without pay. A second offence will banish that player from the league permanently.

But even "permanent" is an open-ended term in this policy. A second-time offender who has been axed "may petition for reinstatement after one year".

Our most well-supported footy codes, the NRL and AFL,  both have loose-ended policies pertaining to the treatment of women but with no set penalties. As it stands, the AFL and NRL can really do whatever they like depending how they feel.

Implementing one uniform and intricate policy only makes sense and can bring stability to a code that has been a "trainwreck" off the field.

Jarryd Hayne is set to face court again on a rape allegation. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
Jarryd Hayne is set to face court again on a rape allegation. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

As Raiders player Sia Soliola, one of the leading role models in the NRL, said this week: "The only way people learn is by knowing what boundaries there are."

Historically, players have always been given a second or third chance when it came to domestic violence and other offences. It's bred a culture of arrogance and entitlement among players - and player managers.

Jarryd Hayne and his manager Wayne Beavis didn't feel the need to point out to the Gold Coast Titans or the Parramatta Eels he had an allegation of raping a US woman against him. As we know, Hayne is set to face court again - this time on a rape charge here in Australia.

If they are to implement a policy with penalties for violence against women - then the women, the victims, finally need to be acknowledged too. For too long they've been ignored and in several cases not even receiving a phone call of support after being a victim of DV.

There's been concern for Barba's family's financial position now his contract has been torn up. There should be a benefit available to the partner or victim of a violent footballer. This too could be written into the NRL policy.

Around this time last year, Greenberg defended Lodge being welcomed back into rugby league, saying the game "doesn't turn its back" on individuals like him.

Greenberg said the $US1.2 million Lodge owed to his victims in the US, was "not a matter for us to get involved in".

In an interview on Fox Sports' League Life program, journalists Jess Yates and Lara Pitt grilled Greenberg on  Lodge's return to the game.

Greenberg said: "He made some horrible errors. The easy thing to do is to shut the door and walk away."

Times have changed. The code has finally shut the door on Barba - and hopefully it continues to bolt it close on the other violent men. Hopefully, their time is up in the "greatest game of all".

News Corp Australia

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