Southwell: Impossible to save NRL players

NRL Player DrunkYOU often hear the term “nothing good ever happens after midnight”. But from my experience minding Roosters players last season, and as a former NSW police officer, it is much simpler: “Nothing good ever happens when you are drunk.”

While the majority of our society can have a social beer without drinking to excess and misbehaving, they are not drinking in the same unique environments as professional footballers.

Think of the peer pressure in terms of being on a constant bucks night, only with the extra pressure of having a high profile.

Now consider how easy it is for them. I have witnessed firsthand how players are treated within licensed premises. They are given VIP areas, free entry and are quite often served beyond responsible service of alcohol standards. It is routine for them to receive unlimited free drinks.

I have certainly done my fair share of tapping on the broad shoulders of these guys. I can tell them in briefings before the evening starts, before the first drink, what the consequences will be. And I can remind them of the headlines they may see about themselves the next day. But when they get to that level of intoxication, all of that goes out the window – they’re too drunk to adhere to advice.

As a chaperone for football clubs, you can hammer home discipline issues and reinforce the rules. But when the peer pressure kicks in they’re a law unto themselves – a natural occurrence when such a large group of extremely competitive men drink together.

It becomes easier to save face and drink to excess rather than be an individual. The players who are the non-drinkers in clubs generally don’t even go out.

So what’s the answer? I don’t believe in banning alcohol altogether but I do believe these players need better protection against the many factors surrounding the “dangers” of a night out.

Setting up procedures with security and management of venues, conducting investigations after the fact or analysing the risks and working with club management – all will go a long way to reducing the problem.

I believe the code needs to enforce a policy that each club needs someone in a role like mine, to keep the players from drinking to obliteration. It shouldn’t be about these men being so bad they need a babysitter. Rather let’s put a positive spin on this and declare that the clubs are being pro-active by taking a trained professional to travel with all sides.

Put simply, the NRL needs professional help. It is no longer just about the football.

The issue of the game at the moment is about off-field behaviour and they need to get specialists in to advise them because it’s clearly out of the control of management at the moment. I’m talking about a professional in this area in each club – providing off-field discipline, writing policies, chairing discipline committees, doing player profiling, writing player community programmes, acting as a police liaison, assisting with media inquiries and responses.

My background with the police is crime diversion and I did a lot of work involving licensed premises and drinking. But the role could be filled by all sorts of people with security, police and even psychology backgrounds. Crucially however, it needs to be implemented at an NRL level.

It is the only way to address the issue.

It cannot remain with individual clubs because they are all about winning games. How can club officials objectively decide issues such as these without taking into account how crucial the player in question is to their chances of winning? There’s a natural bias.

Will it work? You may even ask is my role effective now? While some players treat me like I’m the fun police, most of them truly appreciate my role and what I am trying to do for them. It’s a role most players realise is for their own protection.

I am confident that over time, if you implemented something like this across the board it would become the norm and as a result we would see an improvement in player behaviour.

But like the criminal justice system the NRL needs a set discipline policy for player minders to be able to police. It must be an unbiased and consistent policy. Everybody has to be dealt with by the same rules, across all players and clubs.

And there needs to be a reasonable fear of consequence for a breach so that the player is left knowing full well the consequences of his actions.

At the moment the NRL is simply reactive. They are saying, “Let’s deal with it as it occurs.” But it is no longer good enough to throw Band-Aids around.

What we need now is something proactive like this. But it is the code that needs to take charge, not the clubs.

Trent Southworth is a security and discipline consultant for top sport sides

 

Title: Code needed for NRL nights

Source: The Daily Telegraph

By Trent Southwell

March 18, 2009 12:00am

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