What did they think was going to happen? You take boys straight out of high school, put them into professional sporting teams where their only real task is to increase their strength and fitness, separate them from family and friends while they travel around the country to compete, and pay them lots of money to simply play football.
They attract the adulation of fans and the attention of young, beautiful women, and those responsible for their development — physical, emotional or otherwise — are a group of ‘company’ men who were also, in their time, legends of the game.
While most guys their age are either working in some entry-level position at whatever job they choose, or studying and picking up some spare cash working at McDonald’s or Woolies or similar, the young men who get shepherded off into the NRL, even in their early years, are focussed on the ‘win’ and everything that comes with it.
We hear story after story of wild nightclub adventures, sex scandals and side payments. Apart from the occasional headline and a subsequent fine for bad behaviour, nothing ever seems to be done.
The way the league is run teaches its young men that they can generally pay their way out of a scandal and return to the field the following weekend.
Given this, can we really be surprised that Bryce Cartwright – with the assistance of a former NRL player and the tacit approval of his General Manager – thought it appropriate to pay his way out of another “problem,” the conception of his child with then-girlfriend, “Miss X.”
What did they think was going to happen?
Cartwright was 21 years old, and had reportedly just signed a contract worth $2.6 million over five years. For all of the talk about respect for women and the Women in League program, the practices seem to suggest that this is little more than lip service.
Consider what the club’s General Manager, Phil Gould (himself a former player), said during a media conference after the story broke. After lauding the club’s record on the treatment of women and education programs which he described as being of the “highest standards” in place, Gould said:
“I think too, for Bryce’s welfare and knowing Bryce for a long time, it was important to me in dealing with the facts of this matter that I was satisfied that he’d acted in a respectful manner and a supportive manner and I’m satisfied in this respect that Bryce has done as well as any young man could in the same situation.”
Just let that sink in for a moment. Arranging for a woman to be paid $50,000 to abort an unborn child was lauded by Gould as respectful and supportive, and the best behaviour which could be expected of a young man who had found out that his girlfriend had conceived a child.
Call me old fashioned, but wouldn’t doing “as well as any young man could in the same situation” have been to support his child and his or her mother, not only financially but also accepting the role of father? While many people will be pointing fingers of blame at Miss X, Cartwright and the “fixer” he asked to arrange the contract, surely the club and the NRL more generally needs to be held to account?
The Catholic Church has just been through the Royal Commission, and there was a fair amount of focus on ensuring young men entering the seminary received proper psychosexual development throughout their training. This is because it was acknowledged that in removing them from ‘normal’ life, the Church has a responsibility to ensure that they are formed in a way which ensures they have the ability to develop proper relationships.
There is also a general understanding that young men are not accepted into seminary straight from school, because of the additional risks in separating men at a young age. While the NRL is by no means the seminary, there are definitely some parallels. Maybe it, like the seminaries, should have compulsory psychological testing and formation in psychosexual development for its players.