Matty Johns on ACA: the aftermath

You can watch the full interview here
Yesterday, a journalist I know and admire called Caroline Overington called me for comment on this story for a feature she was writing for today’s Australian newspaper.
At first, I said no. It was an instinctive reaction based on my fear of being verbally abused by NRL fans. It’s happened before, when I went on…..

……the Today Show and criticised Brett Stewart and the culture of the NRL which seems incapable of instilling the concept of respecting women into many (not all) of its players. The emails I received afterwards were aggressive and absusive.

But then, I thought about it. And I thought about the brave women who came forward on Four Corners to tell their stories. And I thought about Sarah Fergusson, the Four Corners reporter who broke that story and compiled that astonishing investigative piece of journalism. I thought about female sports journalists like Rebecca Wilson and Carolyn Wilson who have repeatedly written passionately and courageously about the issue. And I thought about Tracey Grimshaw who, on ACA the night before her interview with Matty Johns, spoke out stridently condemning him and the culture that could allow such a thing to take place, as well as the off-hand way it was handled by her colleagues at The Footy Show during Matty Johns’ public apology last week.

And I thought to myself, THIS is why nothing ever changes. THIS is why no NRL player has ever been convicted. THIS is why this disgusting behaviour has been allowed to continue behind closed doors for so many years – decades if you believe former coach Roy Masters who told Sarah Fergusson (and Rebecca Wilson) that group sex has been a way for footy players to ‘bond’ for generations.
And I thought about how much I admire all those women for standing up and making their voices heard. And I was ashamed that I was thinking of staying silent. Not that my opinion or my comments matter much in the scheme of things. But symbolically, I felt it was something I should do.
Caroline’s feature is published in The Australian today and she has used a couple of small quotes from me but more importantly, she’s used quotes from YOU.
She visits mamamia and she read your comments and quoted from them (anonymously) with my permission.


Here’s an excerpt from her feature:

“In a deeply uncomfortable interview, Johns told Tracy Grimshaw on
Nine’s A Current Affair last night he was sorry for “any pain and
trauma” the woman had suffered. He said what happened was “morally not
OK”. At the same time he disputed her account and insisted she “was a
willing participant in what occurred”, was in no distress and “gave no
indication she didn’t want to be there”.

The decision to cut Johns loose to face the storm alone wasn’t
supported by all in the community, with websites flooded with protests.
Sure, the incident with the girl in NZ was ugly, but it was also a
sexual act, between consenting adults, more than seven years ago.

But those who know Nine boss David Gyngell weren’t surprised that he
acted quickly. He’s a good and gentle guy, and although he is a mate of
Johns, he was genuinely appalled by what he heard and saw on Four

There’s no doubt that the network had learned something from the
incident with Sam Newman, an ex-AFL player who fondled a female
mannequin on the Victorian Footy Show, as a way to humiliate and debase
one of the best sports reporters in the country, who happens to be
female: The Age’s Caroline Wilson. The backlash from the public saw
ratings plummet.


If the NRL was in any doubt about what the public – and in
particular, women – thought of the behaviour uncovered by Four Corners,
it needed only to go to Twitter or the blogs, and see the comments

“I used to be the biggest Matty Johns fan going, but this has put me
off him in a way nothing else could,” says one of social commentator
Mia Freedman’s readers, on the MamaMia blog. “Him being allowed to keep
his job would send the worst message to young blokes.”

Another said: “Women make most of the consumer decisions in their
households, so let’s hit ’em where it hurts. Cancel the memberships,
the season tickets; when the Footy Show is on then switch over. Most of
all, pull your kids out of the sport.”

Prominent sports journalist Rebecca Wilson wrote in Sydney’s The
Daily Telegraph that she’d received dozens of emails from female league
fans who cried throughout the Four Corners show.

“They will never go to a league game again, let alone allow any of their sons to play the game,” Wilson said.

Some in the program had put forward the idea that rugby league
encourages aggression and risk-taking on the field, and that it was
hard for young men to be “submissive” – the word used by Newcastle
Knights chief executive Steve Burraston – off the field.

But nobody was buying that.

Freedman says there is “something clearly wrong with the culture at
the NRL that allows young men to think it’s OK to treat women this


“It’s not like the NRL is the only time men get together in groups.
It’s not like footballers are the only people who go away to play, and
stay together, and have a drink together,” she says. “Yet they are the
ones so often caught in sex scandals. Where is the men’s swimming team
sex scandal? We’re told that these men have to be aggressive, they have
to be gladiators on the field, and you can’t expect them to just switch

“But it isn’t true. There is no reason why men can’t play sport, and play it well, and still be decent men.”

Bad behaviour is not exclusive to the code, but it does have by far the worst reputation.

Other sports are replete with examples of gentleman warriors: George
Gregan, John Eales and Nick Farr-Jones, for example, and Peter
FitzSimons, all of whom played rugby union for Australia, and are now
pillars of thecommunity.

Australian Rugby Union officials nevertheless admitted on Tuesday
that they could not guarantee bad behaviour towards women had never
occurred in their code.

There are some in rugby league who are appalled, too. Preston
Campbell, a Gold Coast player, told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that
the woman in NZ must have been so afraid, to see so many men in the
room, waiting to have sex with her.

“I have a daughter myself,” he said. “If it happened to my daughter,
I’d want some answers from police. She must be struggling. She must
have been scared.”


The league was shattered by the program not only because of the
ugliness it explosed, but because it has put so much effort in recent
years to boosting the image of its players.

Matt Franklin, who runs education and welfare programs for NRL
players, says an incredible effort has gone into programs to encourage
young players to respect other people. Franklin says he’s proud of many
of the young men who come through the sport. He encourages them to get
balance in their lives, by taking up educational programs, or other
pursuits, while also playing footy.

You can read Caroline’s full feature here and I highly recommend you do……

Did you watch the Matthew Johns interview last night? I must say I found it pretty astonishing
that he and his wife had not seen the Four Corners report until they
were asked by Channel 9 to view it before the interview. I cannot fathom the reasoning behind not having viewed the report when it was aired.

I’ve been listening to radio all morning and my head is spinning with all the views being expressed. My own opinion is that like so many men, Matty still doesn’t comprehend the nuances involved with ‘consent’. The consent of a 19 year old girl who was in a room with a dozen big footballers is unspeakably tainted. The imbalance of power was grotesque. Someone should have seen that and acted to stop it. THIS is what we need to be concerned about. THIS is what the NRL must seek to drum into the thick heads of the men who routinely treat women as empty vessels to be used and discarded.