12th April 2018, 10:08 | steve_mascord
OVER the last week, we have seen examples of what some describe as “stepping over the line” in public exchanges in rugby league.
There was former St Helens coach Nathan Brown’s apparently below-the-belt return serve at current England boss Wayne Bennett after an NRL match in Newcastle.
And then there was the war of words between Bradford and Workington Town over streaming their match at the weekend.
But where, exactly, is this imaginary line? And who makes the decision as to its location?
Firstly, a refresher course for those of you who don’t know what happened in each of these situations. … and the first one is Mature Audiences Only.
Bennett is a former coach at Newcastle Knights, Brown’s current club. The coach met his new partner Dale Tynan while in the New South Wales Hunter Valley City.
The veteran Bennett said in an interview before the two sides clashed at the weekend that Brown had “unbuilt” the Knights.
🗣️ Club Chairman, Andrew Chalmers has added his views in light of the decision made by the home side to not allow the stream tomorrow's game to go ahead...— Bradford Bulls (@OfficialBullsRL) 7 April 2018
Details ➡️ https://t.co/9siT9Dk5R6 pic.twitter.com/lYLcjoY9fK
After an upset home win by the Novocastrians, Brown retorted during a press conference: “The reality is when Wayne came to town, if he thought with his big head rather than his little head, I wouldn’t have had to rebuild the joint.”
Meanwhile, Bradford chairman Andrew Chalmers was not best pleased that Workington refused to allow the Bulls to live stream the sides’ clash on Sunday.
“The Workington Town board position is a short-sighted poor decision,” Chalmers raged in a press release.
“Amateur and completely selfish … all sports fans will be equally outraged and I encourage them to express their views openly.”
Once again, a result made this dispute even more of a spectacle – Workington subsequently beat League One high fliers Bradford against the odds.
What we all love about sport is the authenticity of it – it’s like a reality TV show minus any artifice save the rules of the game. It’s not “I’m A Stand-off, Get Me Out Of Here”. There’s no escape. Blood, guts, tears and jubilation - they are what we are selling.
One of the big concerns regarding the Bradford statement was the potential – which was realised, I believe – of it becoming a rabble rouser. Not the cliché – the actual rousing of a rabble.
But aren’t people responsible for their own actions? Isn’t it our job to carefully weigh up facts, comments and the motivations of those saying them before acting?
To slightly borrow from my late mother, if Andrew Chalmers told you to go jump off a cliff, would you?
That’s not to say Andrew and Nathan said things that were completely fine by every measure. Clearly they weren’t – Brown apologised to members of Bennett’s family the next day.
But when we judge these things, we need to separate our loyalty to the sport and how things to outsiders from the pure fan within.
As pure fans, we signed up for emotion and tempers and feuds. Those things are the lifeblood of professional sport and have always been central to the rugby league narrative.
How many fans turn their backs in disgust when a fight breaks out? More than 50 years ago but … still not many.
But if you were on the board of the Newcastle Knights or an image consultant at the Bulls, you may have disagreed with the words of Brown and Chalmers. Or if you worked at League Headquarters.
It’s not hypocritical to see this distinction. It’s intelligent. As a journalist and also as a pure terrace-dwelling fan, I loved both of these dust-ups. I relished them.
But as someone with a professional interest in the sport as a business, I thought they were somewhat damaging.
It's you who decide where the line is. Its location, however, depends on your vantage point.