The market for the NRL’s dirty laundry is booming

Blackmail is apparently the No.1 growth industry in rugby league.

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Ever since it broke away from rugby union 122 years ago, the game has been a honey pot for those of limited means. Now, apparently, there is a new kind of honey: cash from TV rights-rich NRL clubs in return for not “going to the press”.

Never mind that we are not exactly sure how much longer there will be “the press”. However long that is, some people are apparently determined to milk it for whatever it’s worth.

We’re talking players, player agents, jilted lovers, former employees, even fans. I am told that most weeks, a CEO will receive a veiled insinuation or an open threat to expose some secret, real or invented, unless they hand over some of the folding stuff.

And the incidence has stepped up since players no longer needed to break the law or the rules of their competition for it to be “a story”. They don’t need to take drugs, bet on a game or kick a member of the public in the head.

No, they can urinate in the general direction of their mouths, pay a lover to have an abortion or engage in infidelity. The market in dirty laundry is booming.

Where am I going with this? Actually, I’m not completely sure myself. I was surprised to hear how much of this is going on; Discord’s first objective was to just tell you about it.

I am not for a second accusing anyone involved in the recent high profile stories about players’ personal lives of engaging in blackmail. But you can bet some unscrupulous individuals saw these situations as examples they can follow to make a quick buck.

What is to be done?

Let’s have a look at the parties that become involved in these sordid dealings, starting with the media.

Discord would say that over the past 10 years, the rugby league media has moved away from gossip to such an extent that young players didn’t really know why their older teammates were warning them off journalists.

We had an entire generation that never felt like they had been “burned”.

But gossip is back with a vengeance: Wayne Bennett, Darius Boyd, Bryce Cartwright.

It works like this: athletes and their coaches are seen as celebrities and celebrities earn their money from the media and therefore are expected to take the good with the bad. A fortnight ago, I wrote here about where I draw the line in these stories. You probably have your own line – but our views don’t matter because to a newspaper editor Bryce Cartwright is Mel Gibson and Darius Boyd is Gwyneth Paltrow (we know who Clint Eastwood is) – they’re all fair game.

That won’t change.

Now on to the clubs. The worst thing a club can do is actually give in to any attempts at blackmail – that feeds the market for it. Word gets around. The equal worst thing a club can do is employ a so-called “fixer” to clean up the social mess left by players.

This only emboldens the player to continue to be anti-social and thickens the bubble separating the player from the outside world.

Transparency is the only thing that lasts, that no one will blame you for a year or 10 years down the track. Everything else is a band-aid solution.

And now to the players.

You can sit there shaking your head about opportunistic purveyors of extortion and an invasive media and venal secretive clubs but the buck really stops at the players.

If you don’t do any of the things people want to tell the papers about, no one can blackmail you. No one can threaten your club CEO or your manager.

Blackmail can be stopped dead in its tracks if people behave. If they treat women with respect, wear a condom, stay away from drugs, don’t bet on football, keep the violence to the intensity of your defence.

It sounds obvious, right? But the root of the problem, the reason there is a growing market for dirty laundry, is that the laundry exists. No product, no market.

If you’re an NRL or Holden Cup player, you have to behave like an elected official. You have to behave like you’re the mayor, with cameras on you 24 hours a day.

It’s not easy, it’s probably not even right and in many cases it’s not even realistic – but as I’ve just tried to explain, it’s way things now are.

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