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Win together. Lose together. F*** together? The pack mentality of professional football.

Footballer Stephen Milne
Footballer Stephen Milne has been suspended from play.

By MELISSA WELLHAM

Cases of sexual misconduct.Performance enhancing drugs. Drunken violence on the streets. Dalliances with under age girls.

Football and scandal seem to go hand-in-hand. And this week, AFL player Stephen Milne was charged with four counts of rape, after a case that was originally closed in 2004 was re-opened. Here’s how it went down:

In 2004, days after St Kilda won the Wizard Cup grand final, players Stephen Milne and Leigh Montagna were interviewed by detectives about an incident of a “serious sexual nature”.

A 19-year-old girl had come forward, and alleged that Milne raped her at the home of one of his teammates. At the time, Milne was 24-years-old and Montagna was 20-years-old.

The inquiry then became a formal rape investigation – but a few months later police said that charges were unlikely to be laid against the pair.

Fast forward six years, to 2010. A former detective who was investigating the case came forward and said that it ‘collapsed amid a campaign of threats and intimidation from inside Victoria Police.’

Stephen Milne
Milne is being indefinitely ‘stood down’ from the sport.
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Scott Gladman, the former Victorian Police Detective, revealed that he was approached by colleagues who were Saints supporters on the streets, and had phone calls made to his house. Phone calls like: “You better make this go away. You better do the right thing. You better make sure that this is done properly. This is just bulls**t”.

On the back of these revelations, it was recommended that the case against Milne be reviewed. When the case was looked at again, it apparently looked slightly different from almost a decade ago. And that brings us to where we are now: Milne will face four counts of rape.

Yesterday St Kilda president Greg Westaway announced that, in the “best interests of all parties”, Milne would take indefinite leave of absence from playing.

The ABC spoke to media academic Catharine Lumby, who works with sporting organisations on how their sportspeople relate to – and respect – women. Lumby told the ABC that “… what we need to start doing is working in the area of preventing this behaviour and there’s good research that shows that education can work as long as we follow it up with really serious consequences for people who do not step up to the plate.”

Anna Krien is the author of Night Games, a book about the highly publicised rape allegations brought against the Collingwood Football Club in 2010. Krien spoke with Mamamia about her book and the culture of football.

In Night Games, Krien unpacks the 2010 rape allegations that saw a young woman allegedly forced to have sex with a group of men, before she claimed another football player, Justin Dyer (not the footballer’s real name, but the name Krien uses in the book), raped her in an alleyway.

Night Games by Anna Krien
Night Games by Anna Krien

Krien uses this incident as starting point and further discusses the many other infamous football rape cases that are burned into Australia’s collective consciousness – sports followers or not. The St Kilda Schoolgirl. The Cronulla Sharks sex scandals. She talks about the revered, public male figures – who thousands of Australians look up to – who have had their named linked with sexual assault.

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Krien’s book is nuanced – and she paints not only women, but also men, as victims of a culture that has idealised and idolised the kind of masculinity seen in football. Macho men. Bloke’s blokes. Rough men without much respect for women.

A culture that has taught young, popular men – and told them again and again – that they are winners. They are the best. They can do whatever they want.

Obviously not all footballers will be involved in sexual assault cases throughout their career. And not all footballers display a disregard for women. But, if the recurring cases we see in our courts give any indication, some do.

Krien says of the defendant in her book, the accused rapist, “How does a defendant, who you actually get to know – and discover that he is reserved and quiet and even quite gentle – how does he find himself in this situation, and what happened?”

The footballer involved in the case that Krien so closely followed was, eventually, found not guilty of rape. As many footballers have before him. And as many will after. But the question is: how do you change a culture that seems to regularly be involved in – if not create – problems like these? ‘Sex scandals’ might be too light a phrase. ‘Incidents of sexual assault’ has more gravitas.

In her book, Krien draws a connection between the culture of heightened masculinity in football, combined with a “culture of servitude” surrounding the roles women fulfill in the industry (i.e. secondary roles) – and links these to the numerous sexual assault allegations.

Essentially, if women in football – by being diminished in the boardroom and on the field, and put into positions of servitude elsewhere – are perceived as ‘lesser’, they will also be seen as ‘lesser’ in the real world. Krien argues that on-field attitudes towards women lead to off-field incidents.

For the culture of football towards women to really change, women need to be involved. As Krien says, “I mean, at the moment, women are still ‘service providers’ in these worlds. Men have the power on the boards and on the oval. Slowly women are getting a foot in on the boards… But on the oval, women have no respect as physical equals, or as athletes. That’s a big problem. And it’s not a problem that footy can overcome by itself – it’s one that society needs to overcome.”

Krien says she sees parallels in other fields – the corporate world, the military, even construction work – but is also hopeful that football can change.

“You’ve got a similar code of masculinity [in other industries]. It’s definitely not unique,” Krien explains, “I guess what is unique, is that they have an opportunity to change. They have an opportunity to make good decent men, not just footballers, but decent men.”

Young footballers learn so much of their behaviour from their coaches, from their mentors, and from the other men in their field – all it takes is for leaders to start setting an example.

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Anna Krien
Anna Krien

Krien continues, “They also have duty of care to these young guys. That’s why the drug stuff [referring to recent investigations into doping in professional sports] is so interesting – it’s actually completely negligent to these young boys, to be doing this to their bodies.

“No-one even knows what will happen to their bodies, and the consequences of these kind of drugs. It’s not just the people that come into contact with them, and the odd female who will find themselves humiliated at their hands – it’s also the boys in general that need to be looked after.”

But to look after them properly, Krien explains, would involve “re-humanising females and showing them that females are equals and worthy of their utmost respect. It would involve showing them how to treat women with responsibility.”

Football is a team sport – it is conducive to a pack mentality. Unfortunately, it seems that this pack mentality translates off the field, too. So many sex scandals involving footballers include gang rape, or sex with multiple partners, or footballers ‘sharing’ their sexual conquests.

In all these cases, it seems that the degradation of women is not actually about the women – it is about the men. It is, in some quite disturbing way, a bonding activity.

But, as with almost any social issue, Krien pushes for greater education as the solution. “What I kept finding while doing research, was that the education about these issues really does need to change. So it’s not just focused at women, and how ‘not to get raped’, and all that kind of stuff. There needs to be greater focus on young men, saying how ‘not to rape’.

“I think people still think of think of the rapist as someone who is a foreigner to them. Someone who is a loner. Someone who is mentally ill and hiding behind the bushes. But statistics show that the rapist is among us, and could well be one of us. There needs to be a change in how people are educated about this.”

Night Games is published by Black Inc. Publishing. You can get your hands on a copy at Krien’s website here.

Do you think there is a rape culture in Australian football or professional sports?  

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