Reading the (online) paper this morning, I saw that two Collingwood AFL players have been cleared of sexual assault charges by police. I don’t know very much about that case and don’t really want to say anything specific about it. More, it made me think about whether I could recall a single case where a football player had ever actually been convicted.
I can think of lots of cases where yet another football player has raped or sexually assaulted a woman. This seems to happen quite a lot. But I can’t think of a single time I’ve heard of a player being convicted of the charges laid against them. It seems I am more likely to read about police dropping charges, police not pursuing charges and the DPP not pursuing a hearing. What the hell is going on? Are players being convicted on the quiet or is there really a pattern of no convictions recorded against any footballers on rape or sexual assault charges? If I can think of five different instances of a footballer player raping or sexual assaulting someone last year I can only imagine how many other instances of this occurred. So why aren’t any of the perpetrators ever having to take responsibility for their actions? A few weeks suspended from the club and then a loud welcome back into the bro-hood does not = taking responsibility. How many women don’t come forward with what happened to them because they know nothing will be done? How many do come forward and are ignored, or are paid for their silence? Is it really true that we don’t hold AFL footballers accountable for their actions and their violence towards women?
I recognise that statistics for prosecution against non-AFL perpetrators aren’t exactly high. But for there to have not been a single successful prosecution of an AFL player for sexual assault ever – or at least in recent history – makes it seem like there is something more than your standard victim-blaming hetero-patriarchy happening here. I know that there are groups and organisations and individuals working with football players to try and teach them that, you know, sexually assaulting people is wrong. I know that the AFL and clubs are – publicly at least – trying to change the culture within football to eradicate this kind of behaviour. I would really like to believe that there is something changing. That these players are getting it into their thick skulls that rape and sexual assault are not okay, that treating women like your property is not okay, that consent is a really great thing. But I also wonder how well that message can sink in when at the same time all these (generally speaking) able bodied, heterosexual, white men are worshipped as heroes and given status, prestige and a lot of money. When they are repeatedly told that what they do for a few months a year is really important and should be taken really seriously at the exclusion of all else. When, every week, hundreds of thousands of people all over the country agree. The sense of entitlement these guys would be walking around with, the exaggerated sense of entitlement they display, is astounding but in the end, not really so surprising.
I’m not advocating for these dudes to all go to prison. I don’t think sending people to prison is going to solve rape or is going to actually stop any person – footballer or not – from raping another. I also don’t think that the people with the power to imprison others even have the fucking right to do so in these cases, considering their culpability in protecting rape culture. Cops, judges and AFL officials have repeatedly shown scant respect for the law or for the people who have been assaulted – far too impressed by the glory of the football player, far too invested in protecting these symbols of white patriarchal heterosexuality. The amount of effort that goes into protecting these players from being adults and taking responsibility for their actions is staggering:
Former detective Sen-Det Scott Gladman claims that a 2004 rape charge against Saints star Stephen Milne collapsed amid a campaign of threats and intimidation from inside Victoria Police and by powerful club backers.
The woman, known only as Kate, claims that in 1999 police waited two days before visiting the crime scene, failed to get the suspect’s DNA, and records of his interview with police disappeared. Kate has told ABC1’s 7:30 Report program while she has now reached a confidential settlement, she was originally offered $20,000 to keep quiet. Victoria Police declined to be interviewed because it says it cannot comment on any payments because of strict confidentiality clauses. The allegations come two months after former Carlton president John Elliott said the club had paid hush money to women who claimed they had been assaulted or raped by its players.
In 2007 Brodie Holland was fined $2,500 for his role in a fight with a young woman over a taxi cab. After Hollands fiancee was involved in a scuffle with the woman, Holland approached calling the woman a “stupid slut” before trying to tackle her, placing her in a headlock after which she bit him on the stomach, before striking her in the head with his fist. His court appearance was pushed back on two occasions so not to clash with his football commitments; once he faced court no conviction was recorded and no punishment handed out from his club, Collingwood.
The uncensored contract, obtained by AAP on Tuesday, states that Victoria Police could not comment on its own investigations into any AFL player, coach, board member or even staff without consulting the league. The football body was also given permission to “investigate matters of illegal betting” and other serious crimes from drug trafficking and domestic violence to sexual assaults. The police-AFL “relationship” was struck so both could investigate “any criminal activity that would be prejudicial to the interests of the AFL”, the contract says.
I think these men as individuals need to be taking responsibility for their actions, yes. This needs to not just be going to court and trying to avoid a sentence. It needs to not just be letting some gender studies lecturers from your local university come down and ignoring them while they explain to you why what you’re doing isn’t okay. It needs to be footballers finding ways within themselves and within the macho, football-centric social groups they are a part of to break down these ideas and attitudes that cause so much harm. Not waiting for other people to solve it for them but actually recognising what’s going on and doing something to change it. It needs to be AFL footaballers taking responsibility as a whole.
But it’s not just them. The clubs and the league and the coaches and everyone directly involved with AFL needs to be taking and continuing to take responsibility for what they encourage. I think that the legal system either needs to stop pretending to believe in the equal rule of law or actually apply it. And I think everyone who loves a team or loves the sport and spends several months a year telling a bunch of men with a ball that they are fucking awesome, that they are fucking heroes, that they are winners and champions and great, that what they are doing is important, that what they do is taken very seriously; I think those people need to think about what kind of culture it is they are actually supporting and what they can do to challenge it.