“We won’t put targets on players’ backs,” one official said, cognisant of statistics showing an increasing trend of young people sending/archiving sexually explicit images of themselves.
Furthermore, the administration is aware NRL clubs are preparing for more videos to be leaked in coming weeks.
The message from NRL Central appears to be that if only two people shared a video prior to it being released by the vengeful partner, the administration is not interested.
It is also aware the revenge porn laws in Australia are strong. If a player’s ex-partner releases videos of him – vision which had been previously shared only between them – it is likely the former partner would be charged by police.
So, if the law treats revenge porn one way – to protect the innocent – it would be ludicrous for the NRL to act differently.
The ARLC has already eroded players’ fundamental rights with its decision on Thursday to automatically stand down any player charged with an offence carrying a maximum of 11 years in jail.
Any player who is charged with an offence which carries a term of imprisonment of less than 11 years can be stood down at the discretion of chief executive Todd Greenberg.
However, the ARLC clearly resolved not to push its punitive powers too hard in the case of Napa, who dominated headlines in January when the “Big Papi” tapes were circulated on social media.
While it has been widely reported Napa wasn’t suspended because the tapes were five years old, it was mainly because the administration is aware of the existence of many such tapes in a culture where young people are increasingly filming explicit images.
Furthermore, the Napa tapes were distributed to an entire playing group and there are three videos, one of which was sickeningly bizarre and damaging to the sport.
Catharine Lumby, professor of media at Macquarie Unitersity and a gender advisor to the NRL, says, “There is good evidence that filming consensual sex or sending sexually explicit images is now a very common practice among intimate partners, particularly among young people. In my view that is a purely personal preference.
“Where it gets problematic – and even illegal – is where someone films without consent or distributes that material without consent to third parties.”
With a fledgling womens’ competition set to expand and become a significant part of the NRL calendar in future seasons, the code must also consider the possibility of male partners using revenge porn against high-profile female players.
There are enough wise heads at the top of the administration realising the dangers of extending its disciplinary powers into players’ bedrooms and also understanding that the private lives of people are eclectic.
In any case, there are some very challenging and nuanced difficulties with invading this territory –was the sex consensual? Was the filming consensual? Was the distribution consensual?
These are difficult questions for a highly-trained sexual assault unit of the police to answer, let alone a barely resourced NRL Integrity Unit.
Nor will the NRL respond to calls to halve the 11-year threshold, so that any player charged with an offence that carries imprisonment of five years be automatically stood down.
Such a move would significantly increase the number of cases of players banned but later acquitted, creating embarrassment for the code and the potential for damages claims for loss of future career earnings .
Thursday’s ARLC meeting basically jettisoned the right to the presumption of innocence of two accused – the Dragons’ Jack de Belin and Manly’s Dylan Walker – simply because they can play football. Those fundamental rights were sacrificed on the altar of the “good of the game.”
While the image of the game is a fragile entity, needing constant nurturing, it would be a step too far to further erode players’ rights.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.