That a Melburnian doesn’t like the NRL is not overly surprising.
After all, I grew up being force-fed a steady diet of AFL, and being told that Rugby League is a rubbish sport. To be honest, I still believe Rugby League is a rubbish sport.
But I will take it a step further: The NRL head office, clubs, players, and fans are all awful too. Yes, based on recent evidence, even the fans are awful.
Seems harsh, right? Who am I to be so judgemental?
Well recently I saw some footage of a fist-fight in an NRL match. It wasn’t a huge fight by many standards, over in under a minute, and no-one was left with any serious injury as a result.
However, following the fight I read some of the NSW and QLD media commentary and read some of the fan reactions on Twitter, and I’ve come to this conclusion:
These people are idiots. Seriously.
There was a resounding sense that the fight was “awesome” and that fans “loved it” and the phrase ‘Bring Back The Biff’ was trending on Twitter.
Oh how I loathe that phrase. They’re complaining because the NRL recently had the audacity to introduce a “No Punch” policy to stamp out on-field violence.
The warped logic is that smaller players used to “behave themselves” on-field because if they did annoying niggling, time-wasting tactics, a bigger player might belt them.
Removing the ‘enforcer’ powers of the big blokes has given smaller guys free rein to slow down play, niggle, annoy, time-waste. This has, they say, dragged the game down.
What a Neanderthalic sentiment, totally devoid of any sense.
And this reaction is not an isolated incident.
The same reaction took place in 2013 when the Captain of the NSW State-of-Origin team belted an opponent twice on the field of play, started an all-in-brawl, defended his actions post-match, and had his coach back him 100%.
The coach described those punches to an opponent’s head as “one of the great origin moments as far as I’m concerned.”
I’m willing to bet that cops, ambulance officers, and hospital staff around the country took a slightly less-enthusiastic view. Might have something to do with the fact that (like it or not) these sportspeople influence the behaviour of young people.
That fans would sit alongside their kids at the stadium and cheer wildly as two rugby players punch each other in the head just beggars belief.
“Here’s how you react when someone annoys you, kids. Umpires and rules don’t matter. Settings and consequences don’t matter. Just punch.”
At least in boxing you know why the two guys are in the ring. I’m not a fan of boxing, but this is a crucial difference: The punching is central to proceedings and the rules govern as such.
Rugby is theoretically a ball sport played on grass. Punching isn’t actually a part of the game, but only happens when two theoretically-grown-up men lose control of their emotions and their brain snaps, perhaps due to being underdeveloped or traumatised after years of tackles,.
“Nope. Don’t like that guy. Time to start punching him in the head. Why? Can’t remember. Doesn’t matter. Punch.”
I’m not standing on my soapbox saying that this “fights are awesome” mentality doesn’t exist in the AFL or other sports. It absolutely does, particularly amongst dinosaur former-players who believe every team still needs an ‘enforcer’ and that sometimes a melee is needed to “fire a team up.”
But at the very least the AFL Head Office is working very hard to stamp it out. They don’t shrug and look the other way, and the players/clubs/fans understand the push to cut down on on-field violence. That doesn’t seem to happen in the NRL, where players/clubs/fans continue to lament any rule cutting back on their ‘right’ to punch someone in the face.
Why is the AFL taking it seriously? Because money. Oh, and health too.
You might point out that no-one has been killed in a NRL punch on as evidence that it’s all a bit of a “dust up” and it’s not really all that serious. And I would respond with “No-one has died… yet.”
It’s 2014. These athletes are bigger, stronger, better-trained than ever before. They do boxing training, explosiveness training, biomechanics training.
They throw punches that pack frankly-intimidating amounts of force. Land one punch at the wrong angle or on the wrong spot on another bloke’s jaw and that could be that. Lights out at best. Coma, brain damage, death definitely in the mix.
Call me a soft, bleeding-heart hippie if you want, I don’t care. I would say that it is only a matter of time before someone ends up seriously injured or dead from an on-field, heat-of-the-moment fight. And of all the professional leagues I see, I would say the NRL is currently odds-on favourite to be the league that allows this to happen. On that day, I won’t say “I told you so” because it would be too hugely depressing to do so.
The hypocrisy of these fans is glaring: These are often the same people who react so strongly to headlines about the too-frequent one-punch-deaths at bars and clubs.
“Bring back the death penalty!” they will cry. “Raise the minimum sentence for this to 10 years!”
And yet when their sporting heroes lose the plot and start swinging fists it’s “legendary” and the fans “missed this so much, great to see!”
Clean up your act, NRL. If your sport relies on on-field violence to keep the player in line and please the crowd that could mean one of two things:
Your sport needs to change… or you’ve got the wrong kind of crowd.
I suggest that in the NRL’s case… it’s both.