Would you let NRL players speak to the students at your kids' school?

This week, the Sydney Roosters visited Holly Wainwright’s daughter’s school. They spoke to students about “well-being and a healthy lifestyle”.

Mamamia’s Holly Wainwright says that with players up on assault charges and other players deeply disgraced, the Roosters have no place talking to kids about health – but Editor, Kate de Brito disagrees. She thinks that a few bad eggs is marring the reputation of a good group of men.

Here, they have it out over whether footy players should be in schools…


“This week, the school was delighted to have players from the Sydney Roosters on campus… the purpose of the visit was to discuss well-being and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

These are the words that splattered my laptop with tea this morning, as I rushed through a pre-work reading of my child’s school newsletter.

Healthy lifestyle?

Excuse me while I recall some of the Roosters’ most recent headline-grabbing incidents.

Just two days ago, this report on one of the club’s stars, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who’s in court on charges of alleged domestic violence. An ABC report reads:

“Documents filed with the court show Kenny-Dowall allegedly assaulted Ms Peris on seven separate occasions at Coogee and Maroubra between October 2014 and June 2015.

He also allegedly destroyed her mobile phone, used his phone to menace or harass her in May last year and stalked or intimidated her in June.”

The week before, the Roosters were famously in damage control over their co-captain, Mitchell Pearce – no wet-behind-the-ears youth, at 26 – when a video of him drunk out of his mind appeared to show him manhandling an unwilling woman, sexually harrassing a dog (yes, I know) and allegedly pissing all over someone’s lounge.

Watch the video of Mitchell Pearce’s indiscretion here:

Before that? One of the team’s former players, John Touma, was under investigation as the ring-leader in the cocaine-supply scandal that disrupted the NRL’s pre-season in 2015, when several members of other teams were allegedly filmed buying drugs from him.

Sydney Roosters players – perhaps rugby league players in general – as role-models for healthy living in primary schools? Please. Over the past 10 years, millions and millions of dollars have been spent by the NRL on education and support programs to help talented young men, trained to “kill” on the field, learn not to be animals off it.

“Respectful treatment of women” courses, “Responsible alcohol use” programs, random drug tests to discourage the use of “liney lineys” during training and seasons. And yet, a week doesn’t go by without another domestic violence allegation, sexual harassment incident or tedious tale of public debauchery. Yes, I know, boys will be boys, young men will be young men, and gee, aren’t we all lucky that cameras weren’t following us around when we were 21. The excuses for these exceptionally privileged, highly-paid, high-status icons go on and on and on. They get the best representation money can buy, and their talent allows them impunity.

Each year, on average, about 12 players are involved in “scandals”.
A Roosters training session. Image via Getty.

A plumber doesn’t lose his job if he is accused of hitting his partner, goes the gripe. No, and a plumber isn’t being invited to speak to my children about making excellent lifestyle choices. Other professionals that have such high-incidents of intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and addiction issues aren’t being elevated to hero status and touring educational institutions where they can be feted by young boys and girls who want to be just like them some day.

I entirely understand that you can’t dismiss every young sportsman as a hooligan because of the headline-grabbing idiocy of his team mates. But I also entirely believe that as long as we are prepared to walk past the degrading behaviour of a few to worship at the feet of the rest, the “getting away with anything” culture won’t change. It certainly hasn’t, yet.

As long as the NRL are allowed into schools and clubs, permitted to keep peddling their players as role models despite staggering evidence to the contrary, they are being let off lightly for tolerating inexusable behaviour in order to win trophies. And they get to breed the next generation of fans. I know the young men who visited my child’s school this week were not on domestic violence charges, were not photographed with a terrier’s head in their groin the week before, but their visit is condoning a culture that I can’t.


They are not the examples of Australian manhood I want offered up to my daughter. We can all do much, much better than that. And until the NRL does: Stay out of our schools.


I feel a lot of sympathy for young rugby league players. Every time a new scandal or news story about a player behaving badly hits the front page, every single one of them gets dragged through the mud. The latest is the brouhaha over Roosters player Mitchell Pearce and his drunken behaviour at a private party which was filmed and released to the media.

Pearce’s behaviour certainly deserved censure. He was pissed and behaving like a goose. And he is the captain. But did every other Roosters player also deserve to be condemned? My colleague Holly Wainwright thinks so.

My view?

There are more than 700 elite players in the NRL. Each year, on average, about 12 players are involved in “scandals”. Some are more serious than others. Some involve alcohol misuse. Some involve drugs. Some involve domestic violence. Some just involve stupidity.

Each year, on average, about 12 players are involved in “scandals”.

When you look at those numbers and the type of issues that make headlines you see the NRL is simply a microcosm of the dysfunction and problems that already exist across our society. Why we expect these men to be above those problems is beyond me.


We are so shocked when an NRL player has a drug issue yet drug problems are rife in most communities. We are outraged when a player is convicted of domestic violence, ignoring the fact that domestic violence happens every day in Australia and is one of the most pervasive and serious issues facing Australian society.

As Australian Rugby League commissioner Catherine Harris told me today: most of these players, even the ones who are not big names like Mitchell Pearce, are more famous in their local communities than the local mayor and therefore horrifying visible. Which doesn’t absolve their sins. It just indicates why we notice.

We know NRL players are predominantly young men. Many are from lower socioecomonic backgrounds and broken families. They have issues. Just like other people in society.

“NRL players are predominantly young men. Many are from lower socioecomonic backgrounds and broken families.”

What they also have is sporting talent. Some are smart and some are not.

But what I love about their journey into NRL – especially those young men who have grown up with messages that are still terrifyingly wedged into the psyche of young Australian men about the treatment of women – is they now belong to an organisation that is committed to changing those views. How many other organisation are committed to changing the way men think? The building industry? The real estate industry? Legal firms?

The program the NRL has developed around the  respectful treatment of women is so good it is now being used by the  Australian Defence Force academy. The moment these young men enter the code they are hit with messages about proper treatment of women and behavioural standards.

The NRL, like many other sporting codes, is committed to working with the young men under their charge to teach them to be responsible human beings and good members of society.

Some never make it. But the vast majority do.

Every week NRL players head out in the the community to do good. The go into schools and hospitals and soup kitchens. It’s cliched, because it’s true.

footballers in kids' schools
Every week NRL players head out in the the community to do good. Image via iStock.

I can’t tell you happy it makes me feel to know there is a group of young Australian men who work within an industry that says explicitly ‘you face punishment and censure for shit behaviour and bad attitudes towards women not just at work but in your private lives’. Tell me how many other  industries call someone out for acting like a dick on a night out on the town?

I get that these young men have a public profile so the onus is on them to behave. But as Catherine said, it also makes it virtually impossible for them to escape the spotlight when they do slip up.

The reality is Australia, in general, has a huge problem with binge drinking. It’s far-fetched to think one industry can completely quash a culture of getting pissed on a Saturday night when it is raging outside their doors. I’m not saying it’s right. It’s not. But let’s not be so pious as to expect that no-one who plays league is ever going to get drunk.

I think it’s perfect that these young men are going out into our schools with messages about good health. More than most other young men in our community they are held to high standards. They are told every day they need to behave. And the vast majority do.

I’m also glad young kids have heroes. And if some of them are sporting stars and NRL players, I’m fine with that. I know that many of those heroes will never fall from their pedastals. And when some do, it is a good lesson for our children that humans are imperfect creatures and we can all learn from their mistakes.

In the words of Catherine Harris, who probably knows a thing or two about young men having raised five sons of her own: “99.9 percent of the young men in rugby league I would be proud to call my son.”

Do you think NRL players should be talking to students about well-being and healthy lifestyles?