Sport Rugby League Cruel and unusual punishment at the NRL judiciary

Cruel and unusual punishment at the NRL judiciary

Jordan McLean
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Football judiciaries are a familiar, if somewhat tedious, part of the sporting week.

The codes like them because they help sustain saturation coverage; for the media, these sideshows are low-hanging fruit which help to fill space or airtime.

McLean’s under-18 coach described him as a ‘lovely soft-hearted kid’. Photo: Getty

Generally, it is pretty mundane stuff. In the old days, it was all about blokes telling lies about how they got a shiner so everyone would be free to go out and whack one another the following weekend.

I was always uncomfortable about the tackle that led to Alex McKinnon’s shocking injuries being subjected to this process. My fears were only compounded by Wednesday night’s hearing.

Not that anyone acted in anything other than good faith, but this somehow seemed the wrong forum for dealing with such a devastating event.

The guilty verdict and seven week penalty handed down to Jordan McLean will do nothing to assist McKinnon’s recovery, which is obviously the most important concern.

Yet, in the process, Melbourne Storm argued that McKinnon “unfortunately and unwittingly” contributed to his injury by tucking his head into his chest before he hit the ground.

This might or might not be true, but it was an unedifying argument to be having while McKinnon is in a hospital bed in Melbourne dealing with the possibility that he may never walk again. Not helpful.

Further, McLean was forced to sit in a room as a replay of the tackle was shown 30 times. Yes, 30. Not surprisingly, he could not bear to watch. Again, not helpful.

McLean might have been found “guilty”, but in my book he is also a “victim”.  And you don’t have to be a trained psychologist to know that being subjected to 30 replays of an incident in which you contributed to/caused a severe spinal injury to a fellow competitor – and in a public forum, less than a week after the event – is detrimental to your mental health.

In my view, that was cruel and unusual punishment.

A young fan pays tribute to McKinnon. Photo: Getty

Yes, it could be argued that Melbourne Storm and McLean contributed to this by the not guilty plea. Yet there are many rugby league experts who maintain that what McLean did was the sort of thing that occurs dozens of times every weekend. It was natural that he wanted to clear his name.

Now we are left with a situation in which Melbourne Storm are considering an appeal, and newspapers are running on-line polls asking their readers if the penalty was sufficient, as though it is all some sort of game.

So what should have happened? There is no easy answer. As Charles Happell pointed out, there are no winners here.

But a better result would have been this:

The NRL, Newcastle Knights and Melbourne Storm could have agreed on a set time for McLean to sit out the game (say, a month) without a tribunal hearing. This could have been justified on the ground of the extraordinary circumstances of the case.

At the same time, they could have announced an inquiry into this and similar injuries, to be conducted by the relevant medical, bio-mechanical and rugby league experts, with the power to make recommendations on rules changes to reduce the prospects of similar injuries in the future.

That, surely, is more important than attempting the impossible task of trying to determine the appropriate penalty for a broken spine.

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