Rugby League

DISCORD

Mitchell Pearce scandal: Why NRL must side with do-gooders on this one

What's left to say? If you're writing a rugby league column this week, there's only one subject. But with the cacophony of condemnation, it's difficult to add anything constructive to the discussion.

Mitchell Pearce's career should be over: NRL advisor

Professor Catharine Lumby has worked with the NRL on gender issues for over a decade and says Mitchell Pearce must be stood down. Vision courtesy ABC News 24.

However, Discord can see once more in the wake of the Mitchell Pearce affair evidence of a growing phenomenon: an ideological underclass, if you like.

You may be part of this group. I only refer to them as an underclass because they don't have a voice in columns like this, in publications like this, not because their opinions have less worth than anyone else's.

Damning: A still from the video showing a seemingly intoxicated Mitchell Pearce slumped in a chair
Damning: A still from the video showing a seemingly intoxicated Mitchell Pearce slumped in a chair Photo: Courtesy of Diimex.com

My own social media streams are full of people defending Pearce. So are my telephone conversations with people involved in rugby league.

Colleague Andrew Webster's revelation that a male shot the footage of Pearce at a party, asking him questions, before selling it to media outlets will no doubt reinforce the belief of many people that the NSW half was, in some ways, a victim.

At this point you probably think I am building up an argument that I can promptly smack down for the sake of dramatic effect. That would be boring. It's not what I want to address at all.

What I want to discuss is whether this is just a case of thousands of individual opinions on an isolated incident, or whether it represents a general divide in society. Could it be that incidents like this expose deep gulfs in community standards that we can gloss over or even completely ignore the rest of the time?

There are four broad aspects to this.

The first is the suggestion that the person who filmed it is at fault, and not Pearce. I could repeat my own belief that the world would be a better place if we all behaved like we were being filmed 24 hours a day but you need another preachy column like you need someone urinating on your couch.

So let's identify that in a deeply anti-authoritarian society like Australia, there is a belief that rather than a defined right and wrong, there is what you can get away with and what you can't. Have a think about your position on this.

The second issue is the question of hypocrisy: "We've all done stupid things when we're drunk". Under this argument, anyone who has ever done anything wrong in their entire lives should just keep their heads down and get on with things.

Unfortunately, that means no-one ever commenting on the behaviour of others, establishing no community standards at all, and leaving everything to law enforcement. And that takes us back to point one – what's right is what you can get away with.

The third point is the media feeding frenzy. This is video footage of someone off the television behaving poorly. It cannot be deemed sports journalism within its traditional boundaries. There is likely no impact on results of matches. It's something from the realm of TMZ, really.

The whole incident serves to support the ideological underclass's distrust of the media. Once more, however, the idea of an objective right or wrong – what happens, regardless of whether it is on camera – is almost completely subjugated. If a sex act with a dog is simulated in the forest and no-one sees it ...

The fourth point is the big, scary one: do rugby league players and fans have different standards to everyone else – and is this precisely why 'everyone else' doesn't like league and never will?

There can be no doubt that many of the people tsk-tsking today about Pearce have never seen such behaviour, much less been involved in it themselves.

And, equally, many of those defending him were not surprised precisely because the opposite is true. "Hurt no-one but himself" "Didn't break any laws". There IS a barrier there, a chasm.

The gulf may well be determined by age, socio-economic circumstances, geography, sex or any other number of factors.

The problem with rugby league taking no action and siding with the group who see such behaviour as stupid but harmless is that this group of society is in a fort, manning the ramparts, and everyone else is coming over the walls armed with camera phones. If the fort falls, so does rugby league.

Technology is making us all accountable for our actions and breathing life into the endangered concept of an objective right and wrong. Look at the racist rants on public transport that come to light every week. Many people comment on how much harder it is to be unfaithful in the age of social media, as another example.

The lesson from all this is that if you do anything, you either need to be able to adequately explain it or you will be hounded out of mainstream society. Muttering to each other about the injustices of the media or camera phones or haters won't save you from the all-pervading gaze of accountability.

In short, rugby league must side with the do-gooders because the do-gooders are about to inherit the earth. 

You might think misbehaving rugby league players get it rough now. But pretty soon, there will be nowhere for any of us to hide.

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