Every sports fan has a dead zone. It’s the period of the year, where, for a short while at least, you kinda just don’t care about sport. For me, a fan of rugby league, formula one and cricket, the Dead Zone is the period between the rugby league grand final and the first test match of the summer. Formula one is still happening at this point, but as is the case so often now one driver has a stranglehold on the world championship, while the constructor’s championship has already been won.
The Dead Zone, for the most part, is supposed to be uneventful, boring, dull. The only thing that should happen in the Dead Zone is the passing of tumbleweed. Yet for one sport, rugby league, this week has been anything but dull.
Sunday 18th October – Matthew Lodge of the Wests Tigers is arrested in New York after stalking two women, threatening them and then assaulting a man after following the women into an apartment building. Wests Tigers, already fed up with Lodge’s behaviour in Australia, promptly tear up his contract.
Knowledge of domestic violence charges against former NRL player Rhys Wesser become public, alleging that he assaulted a woman he was drinking with on the night of the grand final.
Tuesday 20th October – Dave Smith resigns from his position as the CEO of the NRL. Despite a rocky tenure Smith insists his time was a productive one.
Former Bulldogs goal kicker extraordinaire Hazem El Masri is charged with assaulting his wife at their home on Monday the 19th of October – El Masri is a former White Ribbon Ambassador.
This is not a good look for a game which should still be basking in the afterglow of an epic grand final. There is other news this week, the usual noise about sackings and signings as the staffing and roster carousels go into that weird off season overdrive. But it’s impossible to ignore these events.
It is damning for the NRL that three of those four pieces of news relate to domestic violence or violence against women. It is even more damning that a CEO who has at times been accused of ignoring domestic violence within his own code decides that time has come to seek employment elsewhere.
Admittedly, the instances of Wesser and El Masri are now pretty much beyond the control of the NRL. The case surrounding Matthew Lodge would be almost bizarre if it wasn’t such a serious reinforcement of his behaviour in New South Wales.
This is the Dead Zone. This is the period where I’m supposed to not care. But I do. I care about my favourite code, and more importantly, I care about the women that are subjected to this day in and day out. In the darkest period of the sporting calendar, the rot that is a too common part of our society is plain to see.
As one of my fellow Sportress writers remarked – “How hard is it to not hit someone?”
Sport is a microcosm of the larger society – it’s all of our dreams and achievements writ large, but at the same time it’s also all of our failings and nightmares dragged into the stark light of day.
Perhaps Dave Smith though he had done enough, or perhaps he thought he could do no more – all I know is that we as a society, a nation, a community need to do better.
Maybe for once, we could be the role models.