Football players. Unfairly stereotyped. Or not.

Are Rugby League players just dumb thugs with too much money, too much time and too few boundaries, or are they normal young men whose  misdemeanours are blown out of all proportion by a media hungry for bad news? Meshel Laurie writes:

Shaun Metcalf who was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2004 after he and teammates Geoffrey Ruaporo and Kyle Donovan lured his then 15-year-old former girlfriend to a park where she was repeatedly kicked in the stomach in an attempt to cause a miscarriage

“If I hadn’t wound up in commercial radio and was still a comedian working and living in Melbourne’s Latte belt, I would most definitely have remained in the camp I was in six years ago, the “Dumb Thug” camp. In fact, the antics of Australia’s professional NRL players reminded me of the dumbest, ugliest face of regional Queensland where I’d grown up.

I’d known boys just like them in my own town, recognised for their sporting prowess in their early teens and seemingly excused from all academic standards and social graces from that day on. Their juvenile sexual escapades, a right of passage for them, a source of sentimental pride for their dads and coaches, naturally ended mostly in lots of “slut” graffiti for their young lady friends. Would you rather be a slut or an ugly heifer ? I seem to recall they were the only categories we came in.

Commercial radio in Brisbane obviously offers many opportunities to mingle with professional footy players, which I initially left with my male co hosts. They’d chat admiringly about the players later at work and I’d roll my eyes and do the sarcastic pretend smile and make sure they knew that I considered their new pals knuckle-draggers I wanted nothing to do with.

Maybe I was just jealous, embittered by my daggy lot in high school (not a slut – join the dots), but I really felt the sheer volume of grubby stories that came out of the code pointed to a culture of men completely unhinged, indulging in every self-destructive, idiotic, and depraved hero-fantasy that could be conjured up in a pea sized, alcohol and testosterone addled brain.

Todd Carney has been suspended indefinitely by the Sydney Roosters for another headline-attracting drinking binge.

I did eventually meet one though. It was quite accidental, in fact I didn’t know what he was until I already, accidentally, really liked him.

Brisbane Bronco Ben Te’o is studying communications at Uni and came into the station to observe. What a lovely young man he is. So smart, and funny. I was honestly shocked to learn he was “one of them”. He introduced me to his friend Sam Thaiday. Hmmm, I’d read about this one, but Ben really liked him so I gave him a go. Lovely. A bit guarded at first, but pretty special actually.

Anthony Watts was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after it was alleged tha he punched ex-girlfriend repeatedly in the back of her head.

Then I met his girlfriend Rachel. They met in Year 8 in Townsville. “She liked me when I was just a chubby loser,” he said. They’d lost contact for a few years but they’re engaged now. I’ve met some others too. Nice people.

Possibly I just happen to have met the hand full of nice ones that manage to exist in the mire. Nice ones and nicely reformed ones, who are complete anomalies in their community. Possibly they’re well behaved in the kinds of places in which I run into them as I am neither a nightclubber nor a post-game-hotel-roomer. Possibly the several hundred young men who play professional rugby league are indeed a microcosm that reflects the many shades of their larger peer group.

Some young men go to uni, some make mistakes and find their way back, and some are pea-brained idiots who’ll never learn. Maybe they even come in more categories than I’ve ever given them credit for.

Can you really label a group of people with one word?  Yes they are all footballers but you can’t really label them all the same way.

The boys in Meshel’s regional Queensland town called all the girls heifers or sluts and now we brand footballers with just one available stereotype – heavy drinking, aggressive and abusive.  There would have been girls at school who were neither sluts nor heifers.  There would have been many girls trying to find their tribe who modelled  themselves on the girls around them whose tribes they wanted to be in. Some girls sleep with lots of partners to try and fit in , some conform to the “heifer” group just because they want to be part of a tribe, any tribe.

Maybe some footballers go astray because they want to be part of a tribe, maybe they just want to fit in and so they model their behavior on the societal construct of what a football player should be.

Do you think footballers are simply like any other large group of men or is there a particular culture that makes them different? Are some footballers behaving the way that they do simply because that is what we expect of them ?