Rob Jackson – Not Again…

The title says it all really. Not again.

Not again as the Bulldogs who, in my opinion, were certainly the cream of the crop throughout the season came crashing back down to Earth after audio of someone within the club calling out abusive comments to a media contingent. Compounding the matter, the comments were of a sexual and threatening nature.

It’s Mad Monday, a long-held tradition where a team who has been together slugging it out all year come together after their season is complete and basically drink and let their hair down. Whilst it may not be for everybody, you can hardly begrudge someone for wanting to celebrate (if you are a Bulldog) or commiserate (if you are a Panther).

Like it or not however, part of being an NRL player is availability to the wider community as not just a player, but a type of role-model, for kids pulling on the boots look to their heroes on TV every week. Don’t want that responsibility? Play park football, because it has been this way for awhile. The community has an interest in you, and with that interest comes an expectation that you act accordingly to what’s best for the community. Again, don’t agree? Find another line of work where you can be judged according to your work, not your life.

Des Hasler, a great coach, has really let the team down all throughout the year due to the restrictions he has placed on many of his players in terms of media engagements. People read newspapers, listen to radio and watch TV to get their information about their team and the league in general. The ARLC has specific guidelines for ensuring clubs make their players available. Not the Bulldogs though. Taking a leaf from Wayne ‘The Master’ Bennett, they have walked a very fine edge, swaying to and fro in terms of following the rules. I think this may possibly have contributed to the events of Monday. If you don’t give them a story, the media will come looking for one. Wouldn’t it be better to give them something nice and fluffy to take back? Or take that siege mentality off the field and pretty much invite them to climb the walls?

It is said that the Bulldogs have adopted a ‘No Dickheads’ policy. Todd Greenberg could do much worse then spending a bit of time with the players and staff to show them appropriate ways of dealing with the media. To be grown-ups who, like the vast majority of us, can deal with situations that might not necessarily be comfortable to us.

Not again they cry…but wait. This coin has another, equally important side to consider.

Not again as the media go hunting for another story. 2012 has been a year that has really opened the public’s eyes to the relationship between players, clubs and the media. It really is a love/hate relationship, just without a lot of love. It’s like the edict ‘Got nothing nice to say? Don’t say anything!’ has never been uttered before. Some journalists (definitely not all, some are fantastic and a small reason as to why I write) flip-flop between nice puff-pieces and complete Armageddon via NRL on a day-to-day basis. Throw in a few ‘sexiest body’ and ‘most visible tattoo’ one-offs and call it a day.

As much as the respectability of football players takes a beating with off-field incidents, it would be hard to come across a league fan who has not found some of the sensationalist dribble hard to swallow this year. Couple that with some pretty over bias and personal grudges against teams and individuals, and what do you get? You get Mad Monday meltdown.

Whose ultimately to blame? In my opinion, both sides are, as neither has so far been willing to change their ways to stop what is a pretty vicious cycle. Sports journalists are employed to write stories about sport. Denying them adequate and meaningful access stops them from writing true, engaging articles on the sport we love. Treating them as hostiles only exacerbates the problem, as many footballers use the media to draw attention when it suits their personal or professional agenda. What was said by someone linked to the Bulldogs was unacceptable, and the need for swift, strong punishment will help go a long way to helping the Bulldogs get back on track, and send the community a message that they are serious.

But the media needs to remember that biting the hand that feeds you is dangerous and certainly not a worthwhile pursuit. Flip-flopping and sensationalising that which is important to your readership will ultimately leave you with many less fans. For some, it may see their credibility come into question. In the case of the Bulldogs, credit goes to them for organising their Mad Monday celebration at Belmore Sports Complex, a private location. It is acceptable for media to take photos or chat to players on the Monday away from the celebrations. The Bulldogs did not want this. The fact that journalists then felt it worthwhile to try and make a story out of something that was obviously kept in-house, away from the general public shows how poor the working relationship between the two entities is. They even got a helicopter doing fly-bys over the complex, hoping to dig up something!

Something has got to change soon, otherwise any positivity the ARLC could muster for general public will dry up as clubs become more and more unlikely to open themselves up. The media will then have very little to report on, which leaves us with hard-hitting stories like ‘Barba’s hair: fashionable or performance-enhancing’, ’57 reasons why the Sharks won’t win the premiership this year’ and something about why we should be scared of the AFL. I’m not for one minute saying that when it all hits the fan, supporters want to know what is going on and rely on the media to inform us. Nor am I saying that footballers (or anyone in my opinion) should be free to say what they want and then not deal with the consequences of their actions. Who’s going to stand up first? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m just sick and tired of the crap that is going on now.

Rant Over!

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