Matthew Lodge,  Kenny Edwards and Jack Wighton were allowed to remain in the NRL despite acts of violence.
Matthew Lodge, Kenny Edwards and Jack Wighton were allowed to remain in the NRL despite acts of violence.

Why the NRL must ban footy 'bad boys' for life

The NRL backs White Ribbon and Our Watch so its decision to keep formerly violent footy stars on-field is rank hypocrisy, writes journalist SHERELE MOODY.  

I DON'T know a lot about footy, but I do know that any player found by a court to have physically or sexually assaulted another person needs to be given the boot from the game - permanently.

The NRL is a supporter of White Ribbon and Our Watch so its decision to keep formerly violent stars on-field is rank hypocrisy.

White Ribbon and Our Watch oppose all violence against women and children yet here we have one of their high-profile backers allowing dodgy blokes to play one of our country's most popular sports.

It is also even more galling when you consider that domestic violence spikes a whopping 41 per cent on State of Origin game days.

The NRL is one of the most prominent sporting bodies in Australia, with about three million people attending its matches and 100 million television viewers.

Generic rugby league NRL Steeden ball and football boots. Picture: Isabella Lettini
Six NRL players are charged with assaults against women. LETTINI ISABELLA

Currently, six players are facing serious accusations of sexual and physical violence and three others have been dealt with by the courts in the past few years.

Matthew Lodge assaulted and abused five different people, including his then partner Charlene Saliba, yet the NRL did not oppose the Brisbane Broncos' decision to sign a one-year contract with him in 2018.

In 2015, Lodge was charged with eight domestic violence offences against Ms Saliba.

He pleaded guilty to one count of assault, was placed on an apprehended violence order and copped a conviction.

That conviction was erased from his criminal history on appeal.

After the offence against Ms Saliba, Lodge travelled to America.

It was in New York that he abused, threatened, assaulted and followed two women as they made their way along a city street.

"Do you think you're going to die? This is the night you're going to die," he yelled at the complete strangers.

A good Samaritan tried to let the two women into his building, but Lodge retaliated with a violent attack on him, the man's partner and their nine-year-old son.

A US judge ordered Lodge to pay US$1.234million in compensation to his victims.

Canberra Raider Jack Wighton managed to avoid a jail term recently despite being filmed on CCTV beating up two men during a random attack in downtown Canberra.


White Ribbon Day. 25th November 2015. Generic. Logo.
The NRL is one of White Ribbon's key partners.

In November he landed a suspended two-month sentence and a $3500 fine on six charges including assault and public urination.

Wighton is still a fullback with the Raiders.

Kenny Edwards was suspended and fined $60,000 in 2017 for an assault on his female partner the previous year.

He returned to play after just seven games on the sidelines.

Edwards was sacked from the Eels a few months ago for driving while suspended. 

He remains in the game though, signing up with European Super League side Catalans Dragons in France.

Meanwhile, the courts are yet to decide on allegations of violence against women involving six NRL stars including Jarryd Hayne.

Hayne faces a criminal charge of sexual assault in Australia and is defending an unrelated civil claim of sexual assault in America.

Police allege Hayne bit his Australian accuser on the genitals, which required medical attention.  

Hayne denies this allegation and the one from his American accuser, who is known only as Ms V.

Ms V launched a civil lawsuit 12 months ago, alleging she was assaulted after meeting Hayne in a Californian bar.

Hayne says Ms V gave "implied consent" when she went back to his house where they had a "sexual interaction".

Manly Sea Eagle Dylan Walker has been accused of assaulting his fiancee Alexandra Ivkovic.

The case revolves around an alleged incident involving Walker and Ivkovic outside their Dee Why home on December 6.

Ivkovic suffered "minor cuts to her shoulder, leg and feet" and was treated at the scene by paramedics, police said.

Walker has pleaded not guilty and Ivkovic has withdrawn her police statement.

The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed this week that it is moving forward with the charge and the matter will return to court in February.

St George Illawarra's Jack de Belin and his friend Callan Sinclair (not an NRL player) are alleged to have assaulted a woman during a Christmas pub crawl on December 9 at Wollongong. They have both been charged.

North Queensland Cowboy Scott Bolton has pleaded not guilty to indecent assault following an incident at a Bondi Beach bar in May.

Wests Tigers player Zane Musgrove and Penrith's Liam Coleman were charged with aggravated indecent assault on December 7 following an incident involving a 22-year-old woman in Sydney.

Hayne, Walker, de Belin, Bolton, Musgrove and Coleman all strenuously deny any wrongdoing and it must be re-iterated that none of them has been convicted of an offence.


Domestic violence silhouette generic image - fist raised against woman./Violence
Domestic violence spikes by 41% on State of Origin game nights. MILLARD RUSSELL

While the presumption of innocence clearly applies, there is no doubt that allegations of violent behaviour have cast a dark cloud over the NRL.

Individual clubs are responsible for sanctioning players, but if the NRL is not happy with the outcomes it can impose tougher punishments including lifetime bans from the league.

In March, the NRL came under pressure from anti-violence advocates - including myself - for its refusal to sack Matthew Lodge.

It is clear that the NRL is burying its head in the sand over the issue of violence - especially male violence against women.

League bosses must reconsider their position by considering the long-term ramifications of allowing these players to remain in the spotlight - especially the message it sends to other men and to impressionable young fans.

The last thing we want is for kids - both boys and girls - watching their footy idols get away with abhorrent behaviour.

For boys, it could mean growing into abusive men. And for girls? They will be more likely to accept that violence and abuse are the norm in relationships.

The league cannot urge Australians to treat women with respect then disrespect the victims of its players' violence.

The NRL says it is drawing a line in the sand on this issue. But that line tends to move depending on the player, the team, the offence and the amount of community outrage.

The NRL could do well by listening more to victims and to the women who take a stand against violence every day.

Women such as the NRL's own gender advisor Catherine Lumby who said recently: "My view is if someone is convicted of domestic violence or sexual assault, they should never be allowed to play again."

Lumby's comments followed Macquarie Sports Radio host Mark Levy's call for a "zero-tolerance" approach against violent footy players. 

"The NRL and the AFL needs a zero tolerance approach to these matters, by that I mean, if a player is found guilty by a jury, a magistrate or a judge, they should never be allowed to play professional sport," Levy said on December 10. 


A woman is seen holding a sign and a rose at a Red Rose rally, outside the Qld Parliament House, honoring women lost to violence, Brisbane, Wednesday, October 31, 2018. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt) NO ARCHIVING
As of December 19, 2018, 78 women and 21 children had lost their lives to murder or manslaughter in Australia. GLENN HUNT

Male violence remains a massive issue in Australia with the total number of deaths at the hands of blokes this year now above 200.

I'm not saying every footy fan will become a killer but research shows a considerable number of males will cause some form of harm to the women in their lives.

With one in five Australians believing men hurting their partners is a "normal reaction to stress", the NRL must make sure it is doing its best to turn around these attitudes.  

The league is at a crossroads right now.

Its actions over the next 12 months will determine whether or not it is truly committed to women's safety and reducing violence.

If it allows men such as Lodge, Wighton and Edwards to remain in the code, it will be proof that it's not taking these criticisms and concerns on board.

But if it bans for life players convicted of violent offences it will show women across the country that it is moving in the right direction.

News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is the recipient of the 2018 B&T Women in Media Social Change Maker Award and has multiple Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her work reducing violence against women and children. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Femicide Australia Map.

*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.