Sports satirist Titus O’Reily’s new book A Sporting Chance is a rogues’ gallery of badly behaved sports stars and their scandals and asks why Australians are so quick to forgive and forget the most appalling behaviour.
The following is an extract from the book…
The Downright Odd
While issues, crises and sagas all present challenges for sporting clubs and bodies, the majority are alarmingly predictable. Even the use of performance-enhancing drugs is hardly surprising.
For unfortunately common events, like alcohol related incidents including drink-driving, violence and sexual assaults, there exists an extensive playbook on how to manage them. Illicit drugs are similar. It’s not too difficult to deal with because most people are not too surprised that in a big group of young men under immense pressure and with lots of disposable income, some of them might turn to excessive drinking or drugs.
Salary-cap cheating is now so well rehearsed, especially in the NRL, you barely need to read any of the statements. They’re all just versions of what the last club that got caught cheating said.
Occasionally, though, an issue will come out of left field that can only be described as downright odd. Unlike salary-cap cheating, drugs, alcohol, gambling, racism or sexism, these issues are so strange they barely need to be managed, as those in charge could never have been expected to anticipate them.
He did what?
During a game in 2001, Wests Tigers player John Hopoate on three occasions inserted his finger into an opponent’s anus in an attempt to put them off their game.
Watching the League community wrestle with this issue was probably one of the greatest moments of my life. It certainly produced some of the funniest quotes you’ll ever read.
To start with, Hopoate himself tried to play down the issue. He claimed he was only giving wedgies to the North Queensland Cowboys players, Glenn Morrison, Peter Jones and Paul Bowman. He said this was common in the game: ‘You get wedgies all the time and jabbed in the stork. I’m a great believer that what happens on the field should stay on the field.’
I bet he’s a great believer in what happens on the field stays on the field; I would be too, if I was doing that.
Peter Jones wasn’t buying it: ‘It wasn’t a wedgie. That’s when your pants are pulled up your arse. I think I know the difference between a wedgie and someone sticking their finger up my bum.”
I tend to agree. I think most people would know the difference between the two, even if you’d never experienced either before.
Hopoate’s coach Terry Lamb tried to defend his player, claiming such incidents occur up to ten times a game. That seems like a lot.
Writer and former Wallaby Peter FitzSimons didn’t agree this behaviour was common: ‘It’s disgusting. This is the absolute bottom of the barrel. There’s an unwritten code [ . . . ] At the very top of the barrel you have got the king hits, fisticuffs, I hit you, you hit me. A little bit lower down you have got kicking, lower down still you have got eye-gouging, testicle-pulling, that sort of thing. This, nobody has ever heard of it.’
Good to know where testicle-pulling fits in on the scale of on-field sins.
Before deciding to suspend Hopoate for twelve matches, NRL commissioner Jim Hall told the hearing: ‘In forty-five years of involvement with Rugby League I’ve never come across a more dis- gusting allegation.’ Considering all the things that have happened in League over those 45 years, that’s really saying something.
Twice is a trend.
Since the Hopoate incident, League has had more strange cases.
In November 2010, Joel Monaghan quit the NRL after a photo came out of him simulating sex with a dog during Mad Monday celebrations. You’d think that would be an issue not likely to reoccur but, in 2016, video emerged of Sydney Roosters co-captain Mitchell Pearce doing the same thing. That’s arguably a trend. And to the best of our knowledge, these are just the instances of this behaviour caught on film.
They say you can’t legislate against stupidity, and these incidents seem to prove that. You can’t blame the NRL for not having policies in place that specifically prohibit this behaviour. How could you even think of them?
Take for example when, in June 2014, the Sharks’ Todd Carney was photographed urinating in his own mouth. I’m not sure how someone comes to be doing that, let alone someone else saying, ‘Hang on, let me take a pic.’ I don’t think we should judge the NRL for not having a policy proscribing that practice.
Carney was run out of the NRL as a result. After all, it wasn’t like he’d done something forgivable like assaulting a family in New York.
This was also another case of a story becoming bigger because of the existence of a photo. The picture spread like wildfire on social media and gave television producers nightmares over what to blur out and what to leave in.
Titus O’Reily – A Sporting Chance, Australian sporting scandals and the path to redemption – published by Penguin books