CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

After an NRL off-season replete with player misbehavior and serious accusations, we in the rugby league community have once again found ourselves in the murky debate as to how our game should treat proven perpetrators of violent crime.

Now, in the wake of domestic violence accusations against Cowboys player Ben Barba, both his club and the league have acted – swiftly and decisively. The Cowboys have torn up his one-year contract and the NRL have deregistered him as a professional rugby league player in Australia.

It’s an encouraging step in the right direction.

If the NRL can use this decision as the groundwork for an extensive policy for dealing with convicted violent offenders, then this precedent has the ability to act as deterrent to future would-be offenders. So it’s an integral part of the overall discussion.

But it is only one piece of the puzzle. This is a discussion that must be continued and considerably broadened.

As a case in point: it’s been heartening to see concern for Ben Barba’s partner and children filter through the media coverage of this story. Multiple commentators have raised concern for Ainslie Currie’s mental well-being as a result of the incident and the family’s financial well-being in the wake of the sudden termination of a household income stream.

Like many current and former NRL partners, I know what it’s like to depend solely on a partner’s income. It’s stressful enough when it comes time to renegotiate contracts that you’ve long known are expiring; I cannot imagine what it must be like to have the rug pulled out from under you in this abrupt manner.

This is an opportunity to broaden the conversation. Not only the conversation around what we can do now for Ainslie Currie and her children, but how we can continue to improve if we face this situation again in the future.

Here’s what might seem like a disconnected example: I have long believed that NRL players should have a fixed day off. A weekday, which is selected by the club at the start of the year, and remains the same week-in, week-out, regardless of whether it’s preseason, standard competition or finals.

Bear with me.

As it stands, NRL clubs dictate players’ week-to-week schedules within a few restrictions negotiated and set by the Rugby League Players Association. NRL clubs are not bound to provide their players (or their families) with a standard recurring day each week when they are guaranteed no commitments. They have days off, yes, but they float around and are different week-to-week.

So how would this make a real difference?

Firstly, it would force players to recognise that they must co-exist with many other working components of a functioning society, thus going some way to negating this unreasonable expectation that players’ families will simply be ‘on tap’ to pick up the slack of family-life and household management. It forces players to see their families and partners as people who deserve not only their time, but some semblance of certainty in their day-to-day lives.

To simplify: hey guys, there are other people in your world that need to be able to rely on you. We know people love footy and stuff but is it so high stakes that we must be on-call seven days a week in the event of an emergency meeting about a referee crackdown on playing the ball correctly?

Secondly, it gives players a better opportunity to plan for life after football. They could study, maybe even in an actual face-to-face setting where they venture out into the world, meet people from different backgrounds and generally get a small glimpse into how another section of society operates. They could use the time to commit to half a day of regular work experience – a much more appealing prospect to any employer, surely.

Crucially, a standard day off removes a huge barrier to partners of footballers with children having gainful employment. Under the current model, given the fluidity of players’ schedules, the level of childcare required to cover all of the possible scenarios for even having a part-time job, can be financially prohibitive. Couple that with the regular travel and the fact that many families have taken contracts in cities where they have no other family support, and it’s no surprise to me that most of the partners I’ve met either don’t work, or work in the gig economy. If we could just have one day of certainty, it would make some financial contribution or even financial independence seem that much more attainable.

And this is where it all ties together.

If players are given more realistic opportunities to work towards life after football, they’d be better equipped if football life ends abruptly, whatever the circumstances.

If partners are given time and space to earn something of a living, to create meaningful professional networks, then in these horrible situations, perhaps the financial stress at least might be somewhat alleviated.

But most importantly, if we can make big, cultural changes that communicate to everyone in the game that you must give something back to the people that support you endlessly in achieving your dreams, then perhaps it will go some way to creating an attitude shift towards partners, families and anyone outside of the rugby league sphere with regards to their intrinsic worth.

I know this might be fanciful and I know it assumes a lot of players’ and partners’ individual choices. And there is certainly no suggestion that giving players a Tuesday off will signal the end to our problems.

But it could make a difference. It is one of many relatively simple but fundamental changes that just might go some way to contributing to a better future for our game and everyone it involves. There are many more ideas out there, we just need to keep talking about it.

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I DON’T BELIEVE IN LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

I was listening to a comedy podcast recently, as I do sometimes to escape my children, when the conversation ironically turned to children.

In this case, the non-parent comedian host enthusiastically imagined what it must be like to meet your child for the first time, that instant you become a parent. They went on to assume that it must be an almost inarticulable, supernatural moment in a person’s life, comparable to nothing.

At this point I waited for the parent-comedian guest to inject a bit of reality into the situation. To set the record straight once and for all. To say something to which I could relate.

Because if you can’t rely on a comedian to tell the gritty, subversive truth then who can you trust?

No one, apparently, because in this case, and time and time again, I find the description of this moment is the same (or some variation thereof):

“I did not know true love until that very moment.”(Presumably with apologies to anyone they had claimed to love before.)

“I knew in that instant that I would die a thousand deaths for that child.” (Needlessly macabre, in my opinion.)

“It was like a black hole opened up in the delivery suite and I had been transported to another dimension where I became a living, but beatific mother-angel whose hair is made of hugs.”

The moments that both my children were born were two of the most significant of my life. But I cannot relate to this effusive and melodramatic sentiment.

When my first was born, I remember hearing him scream for the first time and feeling almost giddy with relief. Pregnancy is basically nine long months of cautionary tales as to what can and will go wrong with the birth of your baby. So when mine came into the world shouting and in full health, I could’ve jumped for joy, were I not numb from the waist down from the spinal block.

I also remember feeling a sort of obligatory, non-negotiable love, but this decision to love him was made long before his actual arrival. I wouldn’t have attempted having a child if I wasn’t prepared to love it unconditionally and so this process started well before his birth, even before his conception.

Finally, I remember being overwhelmed by the biological wonder of it all. Contrary to what my year nine science teacher would have me believe, one cannot fall pregnant simply by thinking about having unprotected sex, and frankly in our case, the birth of our first child felt like the hugely impressive culmination of a very concerted effort. Borderline miraculous, even.

But I do confess, there were definitely no birds singing, harps playing, swirling mists of sparkling fairy-fog or even emoji-esque heart-eyes.

As a result, these proclamations have always made me feel a little alienated. It’s almost like some elaborate, global ruse where the rest of the world feigns wonderment at this particular experience just to pull the wool over my eyes. I suspect the same about cricket, to be honest.

However, the more probable (and less narcissistic) explanation is just that we are all different. And more than that, whilst becoming a parent changes parts of you, I believe your fundamental self is still the same.

If Sex and the City’s Samantha had experienced birth, you can bet she would’ve experienced it in her own Samantha-like way, and not suddenly become all Charlotte about the whole thing.

Personally, I didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with my husband at first sight either. And he took slightly longer than mere minutes to become reliant on me. It was a slow and steady ramping up of emotion over months and then years, which ultimately culminated in the beginning of this process again through our children.

Which is exactly the point. Although the love I felt for my children on the day they were born was somewhat obligatory and decidedly unmagical, I have fallen more deeply in love with them each day since. Which I now realise is my modus operandi – slow and steady wins the race.

Although my heart didn’t explode with cardiovascular manifestations of unearthly adoration, I love those two more and more as time goes by. They are actually the best. With each experience that becomes less like one person facilitating the lives of two others, and more like three people enjoying life together, I edge a little bit more toward what I assume is this giddy elation noted by my fellow new parents. And better yet, I don’t know where it ends. I sincerely hope it doesn’t.

THE RULES DON’T APPLY TO US

I have quite literally lost count of the number of NRL players who are currently accused of assaulting women over the years.

Until October this year, my husband Ryan (Hoffman) was an NRL player, and had been for 16 seasons. So as part of this community, it is particularly heartbreaking.

To be clear, from this point on, I refer to these incidents in general. No one specific. I have no interest in muddying the issue by quibbling over the facts of individual cases. The fact is, violence happens.

It is frightening, appalling, and as violence always is, utterly unacceptable.

And it needs to be said, this is not a football issue. Torn up contracts, missed training sessions and stalled careers all pale in comparison to the actual, human cost paid by victims of violence and abuse.

Unfortunately, allegations of violence against women by football players are nothing new and over time there has been much conjecture as to the root of the issue.

Some argue that rugby league is simply a microcosm of society, and that violence against women is present in society, therefore, it is present in rugby league. Add to this, the fact that rugby league is lousy with males of a certain age, and some even make the argument that if there is an over-representation of violence, it’s down to some skewed demographics.

But, whilst rugby league is one of the few industries laden with men between the ages of 18 and 35, it is also one of the few industries that address the issue of violence against women head-on.

In recent times, players have actually be made to attend training (during their paid working hours) where in a variety of creative and engaging ways, they are taught in no uncertain terms, that violence against women is never okay.

Sure, many professional workplaces have anti-discrimination and bullying training, but these are a bunch of blokes who are annually reminded specifically that violence, or any kind of abuse against women, is not acceptable.

Let me just say that again: it is someone’s job to sit down with groups of fully functioning adult human beings, and make sure they understand that it is wrong to hurt women.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but if it goes any way to helping protect at-risk women then I’m glad that this type of training exists.

That said, the existence of this training is the reason I don’t buy the whole, ‘it happens in the world so it happens in rugby league’ argument. This is a group of men who are privileged by education, when others are not. There is never any excuse, but it is particularly true here.

So why does it continue to happen?

There may never be an answer to that question, but I have some thoughts.

If there is one resounding frustration I have with rugby league, and professional sport in general, it’s that footballers and football clubs seem to abide by a different set of rules to the rest of us.

There are examples everywhere, some advantageous, some detrimental, some innocuous and some really, bloody serious.

Footballers don’t line up to get into nightclubs. Footballers don’t get sick leave, parental leave or public holidays. Footballers get to jump medical queues. Footballers are customarily encouraged (or not discouraged) to go out and drink to excess in a celebration of a job well done. In some cases, footballers don’t have to pay for their education. Or their shoes. Or their clothes. Or their cars. Footballers are subject to physical and mental working conditions that in any other workplace would be considered unsafe at best. Footballers play ‘pranks’ on one another in the workplace that are the textbook definition of harassment, whereas others in the real world have been disciplined for much, much less.

“Yeah, but that’s just footy, it’s different,” they say. For the forty-five-thousandth time.

The point is, in a variety of ways, rugby league – and particularly the playing group – has long been a space that only teeters on the cusp of professionalism and as a result, the normal rules – workplace, societal and otherwise – don’t always apply.

I am constantly comparing what I know of the footy club environment to the experience I’ve had in non-football workplaces and time and time again I get the same argument: “it’s apples and oranges.”

But should it be? For me, this constant, underlying message that professional sport is an island is highly problematic. Hey you with the professional rugby league career – you are not like everyone else, you are special, you are above the rules.

And perhaps, over time, this relentless elevation of footballers above others, this constant operation within a space that proudly compares to no other, communicates a subconscious message about obedience that in some outposts then becomes dangerously twisted: I know the rules, but they don’t apply to me. If I break the rules, there’ll be no real consequences.

It might be a long bow to draw. But to be fair, nothing else is working. Not education. Not punishment. Not that thing where you simply rely on people to do the right thing and then get on with your life. Something has to change.

Because when you consider this culture of nonconformity, within an industry that is fundamentally built on aggression, filled with young men whose needs are daily elevated above everyone around them, and where women are never – ever – seen as peers, then perhaps we start to get a sense of some of the factors that contribute to a much larger issue.

There is no easy fix here. This idolisation of sportspeople and pedestalling of their achievements is deeply ingrained not only in the industry itself but also in society’s obsession with it. This is not going to change any time soon.

But given the diabolical consequences that are being faced by women everywhere, both involved in the industry and beyond, it would be great to see NRL clubs backing up their anti-violence training with some changes to approach and therefore to the powerful subconscious messaging. Step up the professionalism. Stamp out the larrikin culture. Put women in positions of real power. Align your behavioural policies with those of the rest of professional Australia. Simply put, send the message – the rules absolutely apply to you too.

AGEING IS A THING

It’s my birthday today. I’m 36.

I love my birthday. I tend to impose a lot of rules on myself in my day-to-day life and I lift all of them at once on my birthday. It’s the best. So regardless of anything else that happens – dinners, parties, presents – I know that at the very least, I can have carbs for all three meals if I want. Or I can have a wine or two, even if it’s a Tuesday. Or I can watch television during the day. Somebody stop me.

Recently I’ve been trying to be more open about my age. I’ve never been hugely coy about it, but I’ve definitely been going out of my way to say it out loud more and more.

I have two motivations for this:

  • It’s a bit like Dumbledore encouraging people to use Voldemort’s real name – saying it out loud takes the fear away. (Which admittedly, is a reference that probably dates me quite accurately with my having to say my actual age at all); and
  • I’m increasingly aware that it is apparently not okay that I am ageing, and facing up to this reality at every incidental opportunity helps me keep my sanity in a world that seems to insist that I remain youthful at all costs.

Let me give you an example.

At the beginning of 2015, my family and I moved to Auckland and we lived there for three years. One of the most striking things I noticed when we moved back to Melbourne, was how many of my local shops and businesses had been replaced by pseudo-medical skin care clinics.

I say pseudo-medical because in my research I looked at a few websites and one of them had a picture of a staff member wearing a lab coat (the definition of science and medicine), paired with some super cute open-toe high heels (not at all science-y – or hygienic – as it happens).

You know the ones I mean, they have white sterile walls, impossibly beautiful front-of-house staff and passive aggressive shop window advertising that makes you feel inadequate and like shit, basically.

For me, this is a terrifying trend.

When I was younger there were already so many expectations on me with regards to the minimum-level of effort I had to put into my appearance: wear clothes (legal requirement, no actual objections here), said clothes should be nice and preferably gender normative (murkier), cleanse, exfoliate, tone, moisturise and make up face, cut, file and polish nails, wash, cut, dye and style hair, remove other offensive hair (where offence is caused solely by natural growth location), tan said hairless skin… the list seemed endless. It was then, and continues to be now, completely overwhelming and takes a financial toll that I have never really been comfortable enduring.

And just when I felt mildly comfortable with my tenuous grasp on meeting all of these requirements, I find I can’t swing a cat without hitting one of these skin care clinics and feeling like I’ve fallen behind, yet again.

I know these places have always existed, my concern is the terrifying normalisation of them. They are in your local Westfield – in multiple quantities. They’re in your neighbourhood strip of shops, in between the dentist and the milk bar. And it is this very relocation of them from the high streets of Toorak and South Yarra, into the mainstream that sends the message that this is what everyone is doing now. It’s not enough to pull the hairs out of your legs with boiling hot strips of wax. You’re meant to be blasting them out from the roots with lasers. It’s not enough to fill your enlarged pores with Spakfilla/make up, you’re meant to be shrinking them away with a patented combination of skin needling and chemical peels.

The presence in our actual lives of these and other services is then underscored by the relentless touting of them in the media (social and otherwise), as well as the very limited representation of women that seem to embrace the natural ageing process. All put together, it’s a powerful subconscious message and a toxic cocktail for anyone trying to live their life with any semblance of self-esteem.

Because all these things that we do, from the simple, to the pseudo-medical, to the actual-medical are aimed at the same objective: stop/slow/disguise/deny the process of ageing. Some of them are actually even marketed in those exact words. Which seems ridiculous to me because WE ALL AGE. It is possibly one of the only truly universal human conditions. Ageing is an actual thing that happens, and it’s nobody’s fault. Can we just say that again? Ageing is not your fault. It’s the way we are designed. I can’t work out at what point we let it become a thing for which we felt the need to apologise.

It got me to thinking about what life would be like for my three-year-old daughter when she grows up and what her list of self-maintenance expectations might look like.

And then I thought, screw her: this is actually a problem for me, right now. In the present.

Because the thing is, although I am aware of the collective effect of all these sub-conscious messages, I’m not immune.

I try to imagine how ridiculous it would be if I saw monkeys in the wild daily disguising their grey patches of fur with sticky leaves or some other such garbage, I use this approach to contextualise the unnecessary complication of it, but to be honest, I’m only partly successful. Some of these ‘beauty’ requirements are so deeply ingrained in me that I’ve given up any hope of ever getting them out of my system so I just carry on with them, to save myself the heartache not only of doing the required beauty maintenance, but of having to berate myself in the process.

So what I do hope for my daughter, is that she grows up to either be better at managing (read: ignoring) these expectations than me, or that she grows up to be one of these people who genuinely enjoy these processes. And I know that these people exist. I know plenty of people personally who get a lot of joy out of the process of self-care and out of finding a way to feel comfortable in their skin. Literally. It just took me until very recently to realise that I am not one of them and that’s okay.

Which brings me back to my birthday. I’ve always loved my birthday but it’s really only this year that I’ve worked out why. I love my birthday because it’s the one opportunity I get to celebrate the ageing process. It’s the one day in 365 when the world congratulates me for ageing, rather than tut-tut-tutting at me for it. My birthday is a day when I call a ceasefire on the warfare between my human-ness (who absolutely ages) and my brain (who is conditioned to be in denial). It is a celebration of an alternative view: that it’s okay to embrace your age. It’s my birthday, I’m 36, and I’m not sorry.

(Also I really like the presents.)

PS In the words of Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, although more-widely publicized by Baz Luhrmann: wear sunscreen. Obviously, I am not railing against those things we do that stop us from dying prematurely. K?

BARBED-WIRE HEAD TATTOO

One day, post-grocery shop, safe in the knowledge that my free-range chicken breasts were tucked into a freezer bag and presumably salmonella-proof, I veered off my usual path back to the car and instead went to get a coffee.

The young woman who served me was lovely (as most Melbournian baristas are – they know they are doing God’s work). But more interestingly, she had a big tattoo of barbed wire across the middle of her forehead.

Now as a general rule, I love tattoos. Not that I have any. I love looking at other people’s tattoos. I love asking people what they mean, and I generally do feel that they make people seem 87% more cool. Which I assume, at least in some small part, is the point.

But this particular tattoo threw me for a loop. Partly because it would absolutely not have been appropriate to ask her what it meant, partly because it was a spectacularly bold choice of subject matter and placement, and partly because she had a very sweet face. Even though she had multiple tattoos on and around her facial region, the whole effect for me was still akin to a ragdoll kitten wearing knuckle-dusters.

But there was something else about it that gnawed away at me, well after my skinny cappuccino was gone. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I thought about that classic anti-tattoo argument (frequently made by my own parents): it’s all well and good for now but what’s it going to look like when she’s eighty?

Droopier, probably. But surely a person who is ballsy enough to commit to a barbed-wire facial tattoo cares not for the ongoing elasticity of said barbed-wire facial tattoo?

And it was during this train of thought that it hit me: she actually may not care what it will look like when she is eighty. She may not even assume she is even going to make it to eighty. Simply put, in the unending boredom of unpacking my groceries, I hypothesised that she probably got the barbed-wire head tattoo because that’s what she wanted to do in that moment and she had very little regard for how she may or may not feel about it in 25+ years time.

The whole thing was a very timely revelation.

This took place a couple of months ago when Hoff (significant other) was in full swing of winding up a 16-year professional rugby league career. It was then and continues to be a huge transition for our family, and a time of serious contemplation of our future.

We were both struggling for what seemed like different reasons but actually turned out to be almost exactly the same.

Hoff was struggling because he wanted to make absolutely sure that he was done, in the emotional sense of the word. As he had been told many times, “you’re a long time retired.” He wanted to know that he’d done enough of the thing that he’d been sublimely happy doing for the last 16 years, and the thing that he’d dreamed of doing since he was five. He was terrified of waking up in the weeks, months or years following retirement and of being overwhelmed by the urge to go back and have another go, with absolutely no recourse to do so.

Meanwhile, I was struggling with the concept of ‘enough’ for a completely different reason.

The thing to understand here is that for many professional athletes, Hoff included, playing retirement represents an inevitable drop in income as well.

So for my relentlessly practical mind, the question was, have we done enough, financially? Have we done enough to set ourselves up and to see us through the minefield of this start-over, and still achieve the financial goals we have for our family?

As uncool as it is for someone of my level of privilege to admit, these kinds of anxieties plagued me no-end once Ryan actually decided to retire from playing. It was so finite. We finally had an answer to that omnipresent question, when is it all going to end? And the answer was, now. There is no more scrambling for that last contract; it was back to a square one of sorts.

And the odd flow-on effect of this realisation was that I seemed to lose all ability to make future-related decisions. Everything felt so unknown. What would life be like post-footy? What am I doing buying a coffee? I can have instant at home! Also why did I buy free-range chicken breasts!? Screw the chickens, I want my kids to go to private school! And so on.

Obviously, the decisions to be made were mildly more life altering than random chicken welfare but the effect remained the same – I had become completely hamstrung in making decisions in my day-to-day life because of my oppressive fear of making the wrong decision and screwing up our future. I had absolutely no regard for what I wanted to do in the present, or what might be best for our family right now. Or for the chickens. I like to think I’m not the only one who has ever faced a period of life-transition and been impacted this way. The future can be a universally troubling subject, whatever your circumstances.

But the day I crossed paths with barbed-wire head tattoo lady and it very nearly changed my life. Well, that and some very useful counseling, if I’m being honest.

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t completely thrown caution to the wind. I’m aware there’s a balance between living for the moment and planning for the future. If I weren’t, I’d be putting Scotch in my smoothie every morning and cancelling my gym membership with very happy abandon.

But still, every time I find myself catastrophizing the flow-on effect of my day-to-day, routine decisions, I think of tattoo woman. And I think if she can tattoo barbed wire on her present –day head with happy disregard for her elderly forehead, then I can make the decision that is best for the right now too. And I must say, I am much happier for it. Also chickens of the world rejoice.

A TALE OF TWO HEADLINES

I love the rugby league media at this time of year. Like your local Westfield setting up their Chrissy decorations on 1 November, you can set your watch by the stories that are bound to pop up.

“Such and such player returns to training in career-best fitness.”

“Some other player spends off-season doing something beneficial for society, hooray for them.”

“Some other player still spends off-season doing something of the utmost detriment to society, tut, tut.”

“Every second club vows to put players through the MOST DIABOLICAL VOMIT-INDUCING PRE-SEASON EVER IN THE QUEST FOR ON-FIELD GREATNESS.”

Cool, cool, sure they are.

In an ever-evolving world it’s so nice that some things never change. It’s the print media equivalent of your dad’s Sunday roast.

That said, I was struck by two side-by-side headlines on the Daily Telegraph website this week:

Eels rebuild begins in the bush” and “Bulldogs hire woman to look after players, WAGs.

The Eels headline is your bog-standard ‘clubs going to the ends of the Earth’ (or in this case, Armidale) to gain that elusive edge over their opponents.

Evidently, the Parramatta roster spent six days in country New South Wales docking livestock (of their pay? What does that even mean?), fencing, lifting weights, meditating, doing yoga and generally doing rugby league’s version of a corporate love-in. Without the apricot danishes and filter coffee at morning tea.

You’ve got to give Parramatta points for creativity and the variety of activities. Whether these points will translate to actual on-field points remains to be seen, but best of luck to them.

The second, Bulldogs headline was a little more interesting.

On the one hand, “Bulldogs hire woman to look after players, WAGs” is very much in the mold of rugby league journalism. I cannot for the life of me work out why the new recruit’s gender was deemed relevant enough to take up valuable headline real estate but this is nothing new.

Headline semantics aside, the content of this article was intriguing. If you missed it, the Bulldogs have hired a Player Engagement Coordinator, whose job will be to look after the welfare of players and their families including match-day support and housing assistance, for example.

Well, what a bloody great move this is. As a long-time proponent of better welfare support for the families of players and staff involved in professional rugby league, I have long believed that this type of role, and an associated framework, should be a critical part of any club. NRL-funded, maybe even.

Now, I know this is a controversial stance. Mainstream media coverage of so-called WAGs going back to Posh Spice and her posse at the 2006 soccer World Cup has done no favours to the stereotype of what it means to be involved in professional sport.

Combine this with our universal tendency to curate images of the best version of our lives on social media and it would be easy to assume that players and their families live a charmed and glamorous life.

And in some cases, I guess that’s true. Hell, even I’ve had the occasional sneak-peek of this life myself.

But I’m acutely aware that this life, even flashes of it, is only available to the select few. In most cases, it’s just bloody hard work.

It’s regular upheaval of your family to move interstate and overseas, not to mention the personal career disruption that comes with that. It’s the expectation that your weekends will be built around attendance at football games and support of your significant other, even when you’d rather spend it playing board-games and watching DVDs with your kids. It’s the stress and anxiety at said football games, of having to sit there week after week, year after year, watching your boyfriend, then husband, then the father of your children, put himself in harms way, tackle after tackle, all for the sake of entertainment. It’s the away games, the tours, the representative camps and pre-season love-ins, all spent completely alone, or single parenting, all in the name of on-field success.

And it’s this last point that got me thinking about these two headlines and their relevance to one another.

In one case, you’ve got the Eels, treading that tried and tested path of taking the players away, isolating them from their families and day-to-day lives, in an effort to solidify their commitment to each other and improve their on-field performance.

I have always been frustrated by these exercises because as someone who has been routinely left behind, it ultimately makes you feel like a distraction. Like your partner absolutely has to go away because they couldn’t possibly perform in optimum condition if he has to come home to you and your kids every night. It’s a wildly demoralising feeling, especially when there seems to be so many unavoidable opportunities throughout the season for players and staff to spend time together and bond away from their families.

But it’s not a new approach and I’m certainly not taking a stab at the Eels for trying it. I’d hazard a guess that almost every NRL club will undertake a similar exercise between now and the beginning of the 2019 season, the Bulldogs included maybe.

But what the Bulldogs are also doing, in my view, goes some way to counter-balancing this tendency that clubs have to overlook the needs of the player with regards to their role in their family. They are sending a powerful message that I believe says: We recognise the inherent expectation that families actively support their players and football staff and we would like to do something to mitigate the stress caused by this expectation.

Or… maybe the whole thing is just a knee-jerk reaction to the Mad Monday bar nudity debacle and I’ve completely romanticised it because my brain is a bit broken from years of said stress and expectation. Who knows? It’s a coin toss.

Interestingly though, the final line of the Bulldogs article says, “Anecdotally, players who have a content personal and family life are more likely to perform better on the field.”

And isn’t that just food for thought?

It’s almost a though when you recognise that a player is a person who has commitments outside of winning football games, like a family, an education, or a civic duty, that it increases his self-worth. It’s almost as though it sends the message that you are worth something other than your ability to win football games and your total value to the world is not contingent on your on-field success. It’s almost as though this inherent self-worth helps to relieve the stress of week-to-week perfection and creates a more relaxed headspace from which to perform. It’s almost as though players that are allowed to have time with their families and space from rugby league are refreshed from the exercise. It’s almost as though when we stop treating players as though they have no responsibilities in this world other than to score the try or make the tackle, that we create better people who are not so pre-disposed to general dirt-baggery.

Huh. Who knew?

HALLO-WEIGHIN’ IN

When I was almost two years old, we spent a Halloween in Canada with friends. We went trick or treating and apparently at one of the very first houses, a man opened the door with a gorilla mask on and I spent the remainder of the exercise in a fit of inconsolable, terrified tears.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with Halloween ever since.

This year, my son is five and in his newfound independence, he planned a trick or treating expedition with his kindy mates. He was most put out to find that such expeditions require parental sanctions and promises of supervision and unfortunately, he had neither.

Predictably, a blazing row ensued.

As I generally do when detailing complicated situations to my children, I resorted to explaining the whole Australian Halloween predicament in my own, rambling manner, with rampant disregard for the use of terms and concepts that they may or may not understand.

“Because, mate, Halloween is technically a North-American celebration and it’s not something we’ve traditionally celebrated in Australia. Although it does seem to be catching on and nobody is really sure whether this is a result of cynical retailers cashing in on every opportunity to make a buck or a slow recognition that the whole thing is a bit of fun and doesn’t really do any harm. Except to your teeth, bank balance and insulin levels. Regardless, as a society we are all sitting on the proverbial fake cobweb-covered fence and there hasn’t really been a ruling on whether we’re doing this thing or not and in the meantime, the simple truth is, I don’t feel comfortable marching you through the neighbourhood, dressed like a crazy person, demanding candy from people who may or may not be happy to give it to you. And anyway we call them lollies. Okay?”

On the one hand, I understand it’s fun and kids seem to get a real kick out of the dressing up as well as the lollies. Plus I am very pro-sequins and tulle.

On the other hand, I do recognise that we need to be mindful of the infiltration of American culture into our own, which is already so widespread and perhaps a direct contributor to our habit of cultural cringe.

And do we really need another junk-food-based celebration? I’ve often wondered whether our US friends’ quick succession of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas provides some clue as to the incidence of obesity in the US.

(If we did do Thanksgiving here, I’d be thankful for the fact that we only have one holiday-related junk food blow-out in the second half of the year, because even that takes me until March to undo the damage.)

Regardless, my main issue with the whole thing is that I’m well aware there are some people firmly in the anti-Halloween camp and I have no interest in interrupting their peaceful twilight on October 31 by knocking on their door demanding treats for my unruly, sugar-hyped kids. In my experience people are generally a little anti-door-knockers on the whole, let alone ones who revel in costumed anonymity and demand stuff from your pantry.

And we all know that these anti-Halloweeners absolutely exist (hah, weeners), because they write predictable columns in the paper each year – one of the more mundane fixtures of the seasonal news cycle, in my humble opinion.

Nevertheless, come 31 October, my pathological people-pleasing tendencies tend to win out, and I err on the side of caution by leaving the whole trick or treating business alone. Much to the chagrin of my children.

I’m not proud of my fence-sitting, safety-first approach. I opened up Instagram last night and was instantly plunged into a slack-parenting-shame-spiral. Post after post of enthusiastic parents not only taking their costumed offspring trick or treating, but getting into the swing of dressing up themselves! I had this overwhelming desire to ask earnest questions like, did everyone in your neighbourhood get together and decide this was okay? Do you have a secret sign so you know which houses to hit for the free gear? Are Halloween costumes and decorations a line-item in your annual household budget? What the hell people? Did I miss the referendum when we decided we are doing this now? I remember the one about becoming a republic…

In any case, unless I get some concrete answers or actual legislation on the topic, I am doomed to err on the side of caution for the rest of my days. It’s not all bad though. Our son has inherited his mother’s ability to negotiate so he suggested that next we go to America to celebrate Halloween. I’m actually more comfortable with that approach, although it’s probably a false economy in the grand scheme of things. Also, is anyone reading this in the US and can we please come and do trick or treating in your neighbourhood next year? I don’t feel comfortable banging on hotel room doors, demanding candy from fellow holidaymakers…