I don’t know about you, but I’m getting very sick of seeing, on average once a week, the spectacle of a footballer, dressed in suit and club tie, looking contrite for the TV cameras and reading from a prepared script something along the lines of:
Ahm, yeah, I realise I’ve made a mistake and I’ve let down me team and me mates and I’m really disappointed in meself for makin’ a bad decision. Um, I admit I’ve got a problem wiv alcohol and I’m addressin’ that wiv the club. I’ve disappointed me family and meself and I’m sorry for that too. So, ah, yeah, I’m gunna just concentrate on me footy and tryin’ to make it up to everyone …
And so on, ad nauseum, blah, blah-de blah.
Last week it was AFL player Brent Moloney pissing (allegedly) on a bar at 3.00am, this week it’s NRL serial offender Todd Carney drinking with a teammate, Anthony Watts, who was later charged with seriously assaulting his girlfriend. Nice type. Carney was sacked by the Canberra Raiders a few years ago for a string of off-field alcohol-related incidents and spent a year in the relative football wilderness before being picked up by the Sydney Roosters last year: a reformed character. He starred in their 2010 season, picking up the prestigious Dally M award for individual excellence along the way. But he just can’t help himself and it didn’t take long for him to revert to type. Now, with two misdemeanours in three weeks the papers once again sensationally portend the end of his career.
Oh, it won’t happen, of course. The club will find an excuse, give him another chance, pledge to continue assisting him to overcome his ‘problem with alcohol’ – always a great scapegoat – and Carney will appear in club tie and read the prepared script. See above.
These brainless little thugs don’t have a problem with alcohol. They have a problem with discipline. They want it all, have it all, get it all, and the clubs continue to make the excuses. As far as I see it, the clubs have three options for handling the off-field bad behaviour of their players:
Option 1: Just say it out loud: “What our players do in their own time is up to them. We take no responsibility for their actions and so long as they’re performing on the field, frankly, they can do what they like off it.” That statement, of course, is high risk. Sponsors pay a lot of money to have their logo emblazoned on the front of football jumpers and whether the clubs or the players like it or not, the wearers of those jumpers are highly paid ambassadors for the sponsors’ products. Sponsors, and potential sponsors, are likely to a bit choosy about who promotes their brand and that is likely to include a whole off-field package as well as the on-field one.
Option 2: Instigate a set of rules about off-field behaviour, implement the rules as club policy and bloody-well stick to it. Yes, that means sometimes making hard decisions like, “pack your bags, son, you’re out”. Constantly making excuses for these little boofheads sends a lot of very confusing messages to the legions of kids who idolise them. It also makes the clubs look opportunistic and exploitative. ‘One more chance’ effectively means that we want his on-field talent more than we don’t want his off-field antics. Rest assured, there is no shortage of teenage boys who would drop everything at a chance to play football – any code – in the big league. For every badly behaved knucklehead there is probably a dozen serious contenders for his position and any one of them could be as good, or better.
Option 3: Hand all responsibility over to the league. Let the ruling body decide. That takes the judicial responsibility away from opportunistic clubs and places it in the court of the body whose duty is to promote and maintain the integrity of the football ‘brand’. This also means that a player sacked from one club for bad behaviour couldn’t be picked up by another.
Does anyone seriously believe that while the clubs continue to fawn over their highly paid performing monkeys and make excuses for their behaviour, the situation will improve? No amount of counselling over an alleged ‘alcohol problem’ is going to counteract the heady mixture of testosterone, money and fame that professional football creates. While no one expects the players to take any responsibility for their actions none will be taken. While there’s always the club lawyer and player’s manager to fix things, why will things change?
An alcohol problem is a sickness. It can be treated but only when the sufferer is ready to be treated. What these boys have is a total and utter lack of self-discipline and sense of responsibility, and the clubs, the leagues and the slobbering sports media need to take their share of responsibility for making it so.
Post Scriptum: Just as I was about to upload this post the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Sydney Roosters have suspended Carney and Watts ‘indefinitely’: Carney pending a medical assessment and Watts subject to the legal outcomes of his assault charge. In Carney’s case it’s better than just giving him another chance, but I rest my case: no amount of medical assessments will give this kid the self respect and motivation he needs to take responsibility for himself.