Opinions; everyone’s got one.
When seeking to write an article that doesn’t take a side of a debate, instead choosing to present both sides of the argument without favour, it’s important for the author to leave their conscious biases at the door. I say ‘conscious biases’ because it is impossible to remove all personal bias from a discussion about anything, because there are so many biases we all have that we aren’t even aware of.
As a fan of Rugby League and also as a person I have an opinion on Matt Lodge’s past and whether he should be playing in the NRL. As someone that lives in Brisbane, many of my friends are fans of the Broncos, so I can canvass their opinions on the matter fairly regularly in footy conversation. I’ve tried to leave my biases at the door. I apologise if I didn’t. The intent of the article is not necessarily to persuade anyone that has strongly held views, but to help those willing to listen to both sides of the argument to understand those they don’t agree with.
Before a ball was kicked in 2018, there was a huge media backlash against Lodge, the Brisbane Broncos and the NRL, after it was announced that Lodge would be the starting front rower for the glamour club, after being in the Broncos’ system for a year before that and playing an entire season with the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup.
The reason it was such a big deal is because of Lodge’s past, particularly the flashbulb moment that was his well-documented incident in New York (October 2015), where he harassed and threatened a young woman in the streets, who sought refuge in a stranger’s home, before Lodge entered that home without permission and repeatedly punched the man who lived there, while the young woman, the partner of the man and their 9-year-old child locked themselves in their bathroom until police arrived to arrest Lodge at gunpoint. The resulting toxicology report showed that he was influenced by a mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol. He was charged for his variety of crimes, spent two weeks in a US prison and was eventually ordered to pay $1.6 million (Australian) to the victims for the damage he caused. He was quickly sacked by the Wests Tigers (his club at the time), which was the third club he’d been at in about as many years. He was just 20.
Before this, there had been rumblings about poor behaviour at his junior club the Penrith Panthers and at the Melbourne Storm where he was alleged to have been involved in a physical altercation with Craig Bellamy (which Lodge categorically denies). He’d also been sanctioned for having ‘the C-word’ written on his wrist strapping during an appearance for the New South Wales Under 20 side.
Add to this the fact it later came to light that he had a history of domestic violence against his ex-partner (partner at the time) and Lodge seemed to fit the bill for every stereotype of a ‘big, dumb footballer who bashes women’, yet the Broncos and the NRL saw no issue with him being signed to play in 2018.
Emotions run high
There are two sides to this debate and each side has a fiery opinion, but it is rare to hear a considered approach to the issue.
It is worth stating at this point that I’m a white man and acknowledge that I don’t have any knowledge of what it is like to be a woman in our society and do not aim to speak for or diminish the views of women on this subject. I’ve read the works of many male and female journalists on this issue and encourage all readers to do the same.
With a history like Lodge has, including known instances of violence against women and intimidating behaviour to which he has pleaded guilty, it would always be the case that women in our game would be in an uproar over the decision to register him in the NRL.
Rugby League, like many contact sports, has traditionally been known as a ‘man’s game’, and while there’s no question that playing the sport requires a lot of toughness, we now know men don’t have a mortgage on toughness. Women play rugby league. Children play rugby league. People who identify as LGBTIQ+ play rugby league. People living with a disability play rugby league. The NRL has worked hard to re-brand their sport as one that encourages inclusion. Their public backing of the equal marriage rights movement was brave and timely. Their relationship with organisations like White Ribbon (who work to help victims of Domestic Violence and educate others on how to counter DV) and their promotion of the Women in League round are tremendous steps towards helping minimise Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women, and propping up the women involved in rugby league as players, administrators, volunteers, officials and fans. To many, the registration of Lodge was a backwards step.
Women and a lot of men were vocally against the signing of Lodge, saying they would boycott Broncos games if he played. At away games, he still gets booed every time he touches the ball. According to those fans, if the NRL was serious about women in rugby league and respecting their involvement, Lodge should have been banned for life, as should anyone that has committed violence against women.
The other side of the fence is just as emotional, as RealSport Rugby League Editor Daniel Lang discovered when he suggested that Rugby League deserves better than the likes of Lodge in an article in February 2017. Lang reported that he received threats of violence from people that said they were friends of Lodge. But they are the extremists. Most comments in defence of Lodge demanded that he be given a second chance and that rugby league is a working class game built on second chances.
They pointed to the fact he had served his time away from the top grade (from the end of 2015 to the start of 2018). They pointed to the fact that during this time he has done several things to improve himself as a person, including two 6-week rehabilitation stints in two separate clinics and subsequent sessions in Sydney once a week for a year. They pointed to the fact he has volunteered at a soup kitchen. They pointed to the fact he is off alcohol and drugs, having never returned a positive test to these substances in over a year. The extent of Matthew Lodge’s rehabilitation was outlined in March 2018 by Andrew Webster in the Sydney Morning Herald, but by then, it was too late; people had made up their minds.
Dialogue, not monologue
Your views on this matter are likely dictated by a range of different factors that have made up your life experience. Without intending to generalise too much, a person’s gender, sexuality, experience with Domestic Violence, understanding of Rugby League and the extent to which you are an agreeable or disagreeable person have all worked together to inform your opinion on Matt Lodge’s participation in the NRL. Before this, it was the furore surrounding the NRL’s choice to support Same-Sex Marriage and using Macklemore to be the Grand Final entertainment in 2017. Who knows what the next controversy will be?
It’s important that there be a positive dialogue about this issue, because you’ll get no argument from anyone when you say Domestic Violence is terrible and that violence against women is heinous. To be clear, that’s a dialogue, not a monologue. We as a society need to hear both sides of the story to come up with the best solution. To have a strongly held opinion about an issue and not give the other side of the fence your attention is to do yourself a disservice. The NRL has tried to do this and they’ve made a decision. But have they made the right one?
It is reported that Matthew Lodge applied repeatedly to be registered by the NRL and was rejected several times because of his troubled past, particularly the offensive acts in New York. The NRL Chief Operating Officer Nick Weeks said “We only agreed to his registration after he proved to us that he had gone through the most exhaustive rehabilitation process and was genuinely sorry for his actions.’’
Treat it like a business
Did the NRL have the right to grant Lodge permission to play the game? Absolutely. Should they have? Well, that’s up to them to decide.
As consumers, we have to trust that both the NRL and the Brisbane Broncos, as businesses and as employers, would have done the due diligence of looking thoroughly into Lodge’s case. We know the Broncos have a hard-line stance on poorly behaved players, after they have sacked the likes of Dane Gagai, Neville Costigan and Ian Lacey for a variety of reasons. Why would they suddenly backflip on that stance and hire a loose cannon? Because, in their eyes, they’re hiring a former loose cannon.
The Broncos and the NRL will understand that a large part of the Rugby League community will not support this decision, but the Broncos especially would have weighed up the benefits of Lodge’s on-field performances and the potential damage to their club and their brand, and decided that he was worth it. That and they’ve signed a high-quality prop for reserve-grade money. Lodge represents value for money and for him, the Broncos represent a chance at redemption. Does he deserve this chance at redemption?
Lodge is a free man. He has done everything asked of him by the courts and with news he has now taken out a loan to pay back his victims; it means that the only thing that now hangs over his head is the record of his actions. Beyond that, it is up to the club and the NRL to decide if he is worthy of being employed. They’ve obviously decided that he is. At the time of writing, it is believed a new 2 year deal is all-but-signed.
What can fans do?
If you can look at the facts of the case and at Lodge’s rehabilitation and decide that he has done enough to secure his chance at redemption in the NRL, then the good news is that is unlikely to change soon and you can continue to support the NRL or Broncos or Lodge with no concerns.
For those that are deeply offended by his involvement in the sport they love, or at the club they support, you have options available to you. You can continue to lobby the NRL to ban players like Lodge and anyone else that has a history of violence against women (or perhaps violence in general?), but always do so with respect for those who see the other side of the fence. You can boycott the NRL and never attend a game. You can cancel your season membership, or just boycott the Broncos. If you want change to happen in a business world, voting with your dollars seems a sensible option. While you’re at it, you could donate the money you would have spent on games to White Ribbon to help those who have been affected by Domestic Violence. If you want to add your voice to the debate, do so with respect for your ideological opponents, respect for those involved and respect for victims of Domestic Violence the world over.
The intention of this article was to, hopefully, put a stop to targeted pieces about Lodge; not because I’m his ally or not necessarily because I agree with the decision the NRL has made, but because a decision has been made months ago and we’re still seeing pieces about him and it’s always the same old story. The ship has sailed on Lodge. We can only hope he is a changed man and the NRL and the Broncos got it right. He's lucky, he gets a second chance. It's now more important to grow the voice of women in the sport and in society and to focus on preventing acts of violence.
As I was writing this article, my opinion on the matter has unintentionally softened. With new information, a person is within their rights to change their views, as any rational person should. I hope that this article can do the same for someone else out there as well.
AUSTRALIA ONLY - If you are or if anyone you know is experiencing Domestic Violence please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). If you want to donate to White Ribbon, please follow this link.