THE WISDOM OF WAGS

Help! I’ve been following the recent media coverage of NRL WAGs providing ‘advice’ on childhood vaccinations and I rolled my eyes so hard that my eyeballs broke. Anyone know the Instagram handle of a WAG I can consult for this serious medical condition?

Prior to the broken eyeballs, I watched with interest as two NRL partners – Taylor Winterstein and Shanelle Cartwright – made recent headlines for their public anti-vaccination stance. The media damnation has been vocal and swift with Winterstein in particular being singled out for charging $200 for her ‘seminars’ on the subject.

Any time an anti-vaxxer finds their way out of the wholefoods aisle and into the mainstream media, the frustration and emotion around the topic is almost palpable. What’s interesting in this particular case, is the intersection between this oft-maligned stereotype, and our other stereotypical preoccupation – the Wives and Girlfriends of professional sportsmen.

Many point to the 2006 soccer World Cup as the genesis of our interest in WAGs. Lead by Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole, the English partners set fashion trends from their seats in the stands and made headlines from the bars afterwards. They provided a concurrent narrative to the actual game, and to those of us who’ve never quite understood the low-scoring code, it was a welcome enhancement to the tournament.

Fast-forward to 2019, and an interest in the activities of WAGs is not so much a novelty, but a reluctant norm. We even have a shorthand for quantifying a WAGs’ news value through a handy reference to her Instagram followers.

But far from making headlines for drinking Veuve Cliquot straight from the bottle through a straw, WAGs are now using their platform to broadcast their opinions on a broad range of topics – not just the appropriate sunglass lens diameter for this season.

I should know, as a former-NRL-player partner myself I have been particularly mouthy in the past few months about the off-field issues facing the rugby league community at the moment.

I don’t mention my own exploits to give them a subtle plug (though, please, by all means, do have a read), but to make the case for an interest in the activities of those closest to our sporting elite.

The fact is, our sportspeople occupy an elevated position in our shared public consciousness, and in this current culture of encouraged voyeurism, it stands to reason that those adjacent to the famous and infamous will be the subject of some interest too.

I would further argue that in some cases, these opinions could actually be valuable. As WAGs we do develop a very specific almost Neeson-esque set of skills, and it would be foolish to dismiss us all as mere tabloid fodder.

For example, if you want some thoughts on the link between a player’s convoluted pre-game rituals and their actual performance – we can enlighten you. (Spoiler alert, I can assure you, through years of data collection, there is no link between a pre-game beef stroganoff and an increased tackle count.)

Want to know the best way to plan a family holiday for the off-season when you’re not sure if your partner will bomb out of the finals in the first round or go all the way through to the big one and subsequently disappear for a six-week international representative tour at a day’s notice? We’ve got a solution for that.

We can give tips on surviving weekend after weekend on your own with your kids because your partner has a string of away games and as a result of his career you live in a city with no support network to help you keep your sanity and crippling loneliness in check. We’re super-good at that.

Having trouble with the office man-splainer? Our lifetime of experience in nodding politely while dudes tell us ‘how footy works’, despite the fact that we have been forced to eat, sleep and breathe the damn sport from the moment we met our partners makes us experts in the practice.

Struggling with body image? As WAGs the societal expectation that we look a certain way and weigh a certain amount has left many of us with a hugely eroded sense of self-confidence so we’ve certainly got some thoughts we can share with you here.

Someone stole your thunder? Once I grew human-person and had it chopped out of my abdomen, only to have my husband make the New South Wales State of Origin team two days later. As a result, I spent six of the first nine weeks of said human person’s life raising him alone, becoming a parent for the first time alone, all the while fielding hyper-enthusiastic ‘you must be so proud of Ryan’ sentiment. Simply put, I can empathise.

Us WAGs are more just than giant handbags, filled lips and hot air. We have thoughts, feelings and opinions on a far-ranging variety of topics and it’s perhaps not the worst idea in the world to ask us our views on these things from time to time.

That said, maybe just leave the medical advice to the certified health professionals.

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#BALANCEFORBETTER

There’s an air of head-scratching and confusion around rugby league at the moment.

What began as a few off-field incidents late last year has developed into a spate of player misbehavior, particularly with regards to the treatment of women. As a result, industry-wide frustration seems to be giving way to a sense of dejected confusion.

How did it come to this?

Commentators across the board have offered theory after theory on where the code has gone wrong, but one thing seems to be beyond argument – rugby league has a problematic relationship with women.

Stripped to its core, rugby league is a celebration of strength, speed and aggression. All characteristics that – rightly or wrongly – are generally associated with men, and have been since time immemorial.

So in this lead up to International Women’s Day, when we take time to reflect on the strides we have taken towards gender equality, we need to start by acknowledging that because of its fundamental physical nature, the literal rugby league field remains a space where women are separate.

That said, this segmentation along gender lines is no excuse for the fact that even off the field, rugby league remains a male-dominated space. And surely this is where we need to start. If there is a poor or even indifferent attitude towards women within rugby league, it could be because there are simply not enough of us around.

It is important to draw a distinction here between football clubs and football departments. In my sixteen years experience with rugby league clubs I’ve known a great number of women who work in the ‘front office’ of the club – marketing, sponsorship, membership and match day experience, for example. But within the football departments – the players, coaches, medical, strength and conditioning staff – in my experience the number of female staff tends to be much lower. Not zero, but very low.

So for all intents and purposes, the space in which players operate tends to be male-dominated. Which is problematic.

These guys spend all day mostly with other men; working with other men, reporting to other men, in some cases competing with other men.

Often they have come to this industry straight out of high school, maybe even an all-male school, so they have literally never had a female peer or a female boss. They have never had to compete with a woman for anything.

Which is why we are in desperate need of women in football departments and in management. Specifically female trainers, performance staff, referees, coaches, managers, CEOs and board members. We need more women present in the gym, in team reviews, on the sidelines, in boardrooms and on touring buses.

We need this group of young men to understand that women are a vital component of any functional workplace, that they are more than just your mothers, or your sisters, or your potential romantic conquests.

Women need to be not only humanized, but bestowed with intrinsic value that is not relative to the amount of weight they can squat or bench press.

Players need to be shown that the inclusion of women in any environment is one that will enrich the workings of the team. Multiple and diverse viewpoints on any issue can only be beneficial, we know this. #BalanceforBetter, as is the campaign theme for International Women’s Day this year. 

Challengers to this school of thought will point to the fact that there are few women in football departments because rugby league has long been considered the domain of men so there are fewer women applying for the roles in the first place. And when they do, they may not have been afforded the vast experience that their male counterparts have, and their CV is likely to reflect this discrepancy. It is a vicious cycle.

So how do we resolve that?

A mandatory quota system for female staff in football departments might work.

Whilst the merits of quotas have been robustly debated in both the corporate and political spheres, they are already an accepted aspect of rugby league. For example, UK Super League teams are only allowed to register five overseas players at any one time, presumably to protect the homegrown talent pool of the game in the UK, and this is accepted as part and parcel of the game internationally.

I fail to see how the enforcement of a female football staff quota should be seen as any less valuable or necessary.

It’s just one example of a change that could be made.

Plus we do need to approach this issue from the top down. The NRL have done a great job of creating a inclusion framework for the entire rugby league community, but one can’t help but wonder how long this attitude shift in the grassroots of rugby league will take to filter through to the highest, most visible level of professional rugby league in the NRL.

And we don’t really have time to wait. We need to do something. The situation has become pressing. As many have pointed out, there is brand damage being done to our game but what’s far worse is the potential for actual human damage.

Last week the NRL announced a forensic review into NRL culture, with particular regard to the treatment of women. This is welcome recognition that there are changes to be made. I look forward to the findings, and more importantly to a future where in rugby league we can be aspirational in this space, rather than standing around, scratching our collective heads.

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.

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.

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?

JACKETS: BOTH THE WHISKEY AND LITERAL KIND

Here’s the thing about football: I’ve never…. really…. got it. If you’ve ever read any of my previous blogs you’ll know that I’ve spent a good portion of my typed words talking about football, specifically, rugby league, so this may come as some surprise. Permit me to explain.

I am not an athlete. I have never been interested in playing sport. I avoided it at all costs. And I have always found the experience of not being athletic to be an alienating one, which I assume is not uncommon. It could be why so many people gravitate to sport as spectators. Those who can’t do….watch?

As I kid I bonded with my dad over a love of the Melbourne Demons (Aussie Rules, for those requiring translation). But looking back, I think my love of that experience was more about time with my family. My cousins were all Dees supporters too and I have some really fond memories watching games together. Aside from that, (and one particularly striking nude photo of Stephen Tingay in the Herald Sun circa 2000), I don’t have many of memories of the specifics. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t about an appreciation of the sport itself.

stephen tingay
Lived on my bedroom wall until exposure from the sun over many years faded it away.

Fast forward to 2003 when I meet Hoff, who was a rugby league player and had never dreamt of being anything else. The only one more surprised than me that I have ended up married to a professional athlete would probably be childhood me. Or maybe my mum.

In those early days, I was well and truly a rugby league convert. I went to every game, I devoured every news story and I made a concerted effort to understand the sport and all its nuances.

But, as Hoff and I grew more and more serious, my relationship with sport became more and more problematic. Rugby league, went from being “that thing we do on the weekends”, to “that thing that controls our lives, determines where we live, what we do most days and our livelihood”. Sixteen years of being involved at a personal level is enough to give anyone a slightly different viewpoint, I think, particularly for someone like me who never really understood it in the first place.

All that said, I had an absolute ball at Monday Night Football in Green Bay. Go figure.

packers

We went to Green Bay with the sole purpose of attending a Green Bay Packers home game. It was a bucket list item for Hoff and far be it from me to stand in the way of lifelong dreams.

We kicked off the experience with a tailgate event, which started a couple of hours before the game. It was incredible. So many people, so much food, so many drinks and not a shot measurer in sight. Eek.

Honestly, these people know how to do football. There were people everywhere and such a joyous vibe about the place, that it was hard not to be excited (even though I could only name one player on the whole team and even then only when I was standing behind Hoff wearing his jersey with said name on it.)

Tailgate

The attire was a site to behold too. Cheese wedge hats (which had me lamenting the finite space in my suitcase), green and yellow pinstripe suits and so many Packers jerseys that I was beginning to think they were compulsory town uniform. From the minute we got up that morning we barely saw a person – working in a professional capacity or not – who was not wearing one.

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Hoff insisted on wearing his as soon as he purchased it at 10 o’clock in the morning

And holy hell was it cold. We’d been keeping an eye on the weather in the lead up to our trip and feeling grateful that it wasn’t looking too bad, then the day after we arrived a cold front blew through the mid-west and knocked about fifteen degrees Celsius off the mercury overnight. We’ve been cold ever since. Green Bay was absolutely no exception. I was so cold that I purchased a lovely pair of gloves, which I think really bring out the colour in my eyes.

gloves

I also chose to combat the cold by donning my ‘whiskey jacket’, which actually proved to be pretty effective (thank goodness for Americans and their generous pours). Also, thank goodness for the 80,000-odd other people who attended this game. It made for a cozy walk to the stadium and a good amount of body heat once we were there.

(I was less excited about the number of people at the game when I went to the loo at one point and genuinely got lost on my way back to my seat. Dammit, Hoffman, if there’s one sports-related thing you’re supposed to be good at after 16 years of professional fandom then stadium navigation should really be it.)

It was a good game too, I’m told. I can read a scoreboard and so obviously I know that the Packers won, but that’s about the sum total of my understanding of how it all went down. You get to yell ‘First Down’ every now and again, which has something to do with yards gained, but as I’m not exactly sure what a yard is either that doesn’t really help me much. Metric all the way, baby.

So even though I am a bit of a sportaphobe, I’ll always be grateful for having had this once in a lifetime experience. Not only was it all kinds of fun, I got to forget all my hang-ups about sport and just be a fan. (Coldest, least knowledgeable fan ever, but a fan just the same).