Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Mad to keep Monday rite

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AFL player John McCarthy died on a team trip to Las Vegas. Photo / Getty Images
AFL player John McCarthy died on a team trip to Las Vegas. Photo / Getty Images

So tell me again, why is there such a thing as Mad Monday? If ever there was an out-of-date, mindless, everybody-loses, worthless occasion, it is this damaging, booze-laden homage to cavemen and the liquor industry.

The latest effort - the Canterbury Bulldogs drunkenly gobbing off sexist remarks towards a female television reporter during their end-of-season 'Mad Monday' blow-out - was as predictable as it was frustrating. It happens every year in an institutionalised, booze-soaked end to the season as NRL and AFL players "let their hair down".

No one wins with this stuff. The Bulldogs have hauled themselves up from their previous image of predatory, women-hating drunks only to have it vividly recalled after Nine News cameras captured the men yelling: "There are some ladies here to stick their heads in your pants" and "I want to go and punch you in the face".

The media also lose. Many - maybe even a majority - believe that the media are to blame for publicising what is essentially a private function. No cameras, no outrage, they say.

It's a story only because the media have beat it up.

In fact, the media's mere presence was provocative. There is only one reason to cover such a story - to capture indiscretions. Players already feel that they are menaced by an always-there media, ready to end their careers with reports of off-field misbehaviour.

The reality is that these boofheads are paid an enormous amount of money to be athletes and household names. Like it or not, their actions are news. The reporter concerned, Jayne Azzopardi, attempted to play down the provocation charge by saying the cameras weren't being stuck in the men's faces as they were positioned in a building and behind a fence, with the media locked out.

"All they had to do if they didn't want us to see them was shut a window. Instead they decided to stick their heads out and yell these awful things, knowing full well, not just that cameras were there [but] they were yelling these things at the cameras," she said. "It's the sort of thing I wouldn't want my mother to hear, [and] they wouldn't want their mothers or their children to hear.

"This isn't about me, it's not a personal thing. To me, this is a story because this is exactly the sort of thing they shouldn't be doing. They're role models. They get paid to play football and be role models to young people."

I'm sorry but I disagree with my media colleague. Her very presence was a red rag to a bull and the fact her masters decided to send a woman risked (whether deliberate or not) being seen as provocative at best or, at worst, entrapment of a sort.

THAT'S NOT to excuse the Bulldogs players. I mean, they all dressed up as super heroes. What are they, 12? What next - a clown doing balloon tricks and McDonald's chicken nuggets all round?

Then they drink themselves into a state of disrepair that ends with them being abusive; this from a club and within a sport that has had highly publicised misadventures with booze and abuse of women.

Time for some disclaimers. I drink the occasional beer and the more than occasional red wine. I played rugby for many years and know about the team dynamic - and release from the tight constraints of the professional season. I had some drunken episodes when young which I now regard with disfavour. But then a strange thing happened. I grew up.

The drinking and abuse of women by some NRL and AFL players (what is it about Australian men?) suggests they never want to pop the artificial bubble that rugby league and public life has cast them into, often without the tools to deal with it. Some of them ... well, morons will be morons.

Want a clincher? John McCarthy. He is the 22-year-old Port Adelaide AFL player who died last month when he apparently tried to jump from a hotel building on to a palm tree and missed. He and his team-mates were on an end-of-season bender in Las Vegas. There has been some unproven mention that drugs were available but what is clearly known is that the Port boys had had a lot to drink.

No matter which way you play it, this ritualised, boys-on-the-lash nonsense has now had fatal consequences.

At least the AFL club tried to take matters offshore, away from the hardy annual that Mad Mondays have become, removing the inevitable, frustrating meeting of morons and media seen every year. But I bet McCarthy's family and girlfriend would rather he had stayed home ...

There is another villain of the piece - the liquor industry. New Zealand, Australia, Britain and many other countries have problems with binge drinking. So what do Ms Azzopardi's "role models" do? They binge drink.

Victoria Bitter and the celebrated Australian rum, Bundaberg, are among the sponsors of the NRL. It would be refreshing to see one or both call for an end to Mad Mondays.

Don't get me wrong - I am a supporter of booze sponsorship; sport would find it tough to exist without it. But a product that carries such a social impact cries out for intervention by one or both sponsors/suppliers. Don't hold your breath.

Take Mad Monday out of the public eye. Take away the almost religious status it has achieved among NRL and AFL players.

Ban it altogether or hold an end-of-season do at the coach's house or some such.

Otherwise what both sports have is a situation where they take money from companies whose products are among those consumed on Mad Mondays and other insane drinking occasions; a generic product which undermines the very game it purports to support.

Doesn't make sense, does it?

- Herald on Sunday

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