One Woman Sums Up Depth Of Fury Towards Accused Rapist Playing In NRL
There are two sides to this story. But for many women, one side is more compelling than the other.
Overnight I spoke to a woman I know who was raped once and is also a huge fan of the NRL.
We spoke about the decision to allow Jack de Belin to train with and play for his NRL club St George Illawarra, despite a charge of aggravated sexual assault hanging over him.
Police allege de Belin forcibly ripped off a 19-year-old woman's shorts and underwear, pinned his forearm across her upper body, put his right hand around her throat, then started having sex with her without her consent, in an incident in Wollongong on December 9 last year.
De Belin yesterday pleaded not guilty to the charge and has had his bail conditions relaxed so he can travel interstate to play when the NRL season starts in March.
His return to NRL training duties has angered many people, including the woman I spoke to.
I won't reveal her name, but under her Twitter handle @kernpuff, she made her feelings clear in an emotive tweet directed at Peter Beattie, the former Queensland premier who is chair of the Australian Rugby League Commission.
Beattie was the target of my friend's tweet, not just because the two share a State of Origin -- excuse the rugby league pun -- but because he has been outspoken over the need for the game to take a tough stand against men accused of "domestic & other violence".
Rugby league authorities were tight-lipped in the wake of yesterday's development.
"The matter is before the courts and the player has pleaded not guilty," an NRL spokesman said.
"The club will make no further comment as this matter remains before the courts," a St George Illawarra spokesman said.
These responses anger my friend, who told me: "I am so upset by how badly they handle this every time. It has got to change".
In a rugby league off-season in which no fewer than six NRL players have been accused of violence against women, debate has polarised on how to deal with players against whom there are as yet unproven charges.
Some argue that sportspeople accused of any offence should be allowed to continue playing until the matter has played out in the courts, given the presumption of innocence inherent in our legal system.
Sports stars have only a limited career span, they argue. A year or two on the sidelines can ruin their careers.
Then there are those who look at the bigger picture.
They look at the image of the game, and the fact that players like Jack de Belin will be cheered by people young and old while these charges hang over them.
They say that players in positions like de Belin's should be stood down until the accusations against them have played out in the legal system -- just like high profile people in the corporate sphere would likely be forced to do.
That's the way my friend sees it, and the way many women see it.
The NRL's own research has revealed that almost 50 percent of the game's fans are women. If my friend's views are any sort of yardstick, it's hard to see that number increasing in the near future.