Playing outside the boundaries

Article by Nick Smart /
Herald Sun /
January 17, 2021 /
Click here to view original /

ANNA (not her real name) was shocked. Just minutes after connecting with an AFL player on Instagram, he asked for her phone number and immediately placed a video call to her while naked and touching himself.

“To think his actions are acceptable, to straight away FaceTime someone and be naked on the other end is not normal,” Anna told the Sunday Herald Sun.

“I know friends who have also come forward and said he (this player) had ‘added’ them on an app and within 10 minutes had asked to see their feet.

“No conversation beforehand, just straight into it. It’s very bizarre behaviour.” This is not an AFL problem, it’s societal. Women encounter this type of lewd behaviour on social media and dating apps regularly.

The level of brashness of this particular footballer, however, stood out to Anna as beyond the pale.

“It’s pretty common behaviour but usually there is more conversation to the point to get to that,” she said. “He just has no idea about people’s boundaries or even knowing what is acceptable and what isn’t. And I think it’s more of a mental issue than anything else.

“I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing.” Hawthorn stood down forward Jonathon Patton last week as it investigated claims he shared lewd images with women.

It came as a number of women detailed what they said was inappropriate behaviour by Patton, and called for a cultural overhaul among footballers.

The Hawks player has been suspended from all commitments with the club until a probe into his alleged behaviour is completed.

He has vehemently denied the allegations against him.

Late last week he was admitted to hospital, where he was receiving treatment for mental health issues.

The AFL Integrity Unit is also investigating the claims, and has interviewed numerous women who have come forward.

Former police officer and cyber security expert Susan McLean, who provided cyber safety training to AFL clubs until a few years ago, said she was not shocked by the allegations.

“It’s not a surprise because footy clubs are a representation of society and this behaviour is out there in society, which doesn’t make it OK,” Ms McLean said.

“Obviously when someone is high profile for whatever reason, their behaviour is going to be far more scrutinised than Tom Smith from around the corner that no one knows. AFL footballers set themselves up as role models whether they like it or not, and they’re expected to uphold community standards of behaviour.

“This is far from anything that can be deemed acceptable behaviour, and it comes down to common decency.

“It’s a very different situation to when two people are in a relationship and they’re sharing these images consensually and it goes sour and then someone shares them.

“That’s a whole different story, but this is unsolicited and unasked for, it’s disrespectful and it’s criminal behaviour.” WHY SOME MEN DO THIS THE big question when it comes to sending women unsolicited nude photos and videos is “why?” Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at Melbourne University who teaches about gender and sexuality, said there were a multitude of reasons.

“If someone is compulsively sending unsolicited sexual images, my hunch is that they are either extremely immature or that sending the photos is part of a sexual fetish, functioning as a kind of flashing not dissimilar from other kinds of exhibitionism whereby the thrill is centred on doing something illicit and ‘naughty’,” Dr Rosewarne said.

“Men send d–k pics for an enormous range of reasons; to be shocking, to arouse themselves, to proposition women, to show off, to be ‘cheeky’.

“Whether or not they think it’s acceptable is complicated.

“Some men are immature and probably haven’t given it much thought, (while) others are arrogant and likely don’t care.

“I imagine that some men fantasise that women will be aroused by the photos and will reciprocate with images of themselves or, at least, some flattering words of encouragement.” Ms McLean believed it all came down to entitlement.

“They’re indulged and some of them do it because they think that’s what girls want to see,” she said.

“I work with a lot of young women who basically say it’s expected that they accept this sort of communication and if they complain about it they’re put down and ostracised. So they’re not empowered enough to speak up in great numbers.

“Any sort of sexual behaviour is never in isolation.

“They’re not just going to target one person and that’s it.

“And of course it just takes one brave person to come forward and then the others become braver, which is great but sad, and they’re willing to speak up as well.” EDUCATION WHEN Ms McLean used to meet with AFL players, she would “hit them right between the eyes”.

“One of the things I always say to players when I speak to them is: ‘on draft day you’ll go from a nobody to a somebody’,” she said.

“With that, people are going to want a part of you not because of you, but because they’re fussed about what you can offer.

“That’s a huge thing and if these young men are not supported in that environment, which many are not, their head just gets bigger and bigger and their behaviour never curtails, and away they go.” When AFL players enter the system after being drafted or rookied, they take part in an induction camp. Players are asked to abide by the AFL’s respect and responsibility policy and receive education.

The induction program includes, among other areas, sessions on social media and online safety.

The clubs may run their own programs and hold refreshers after that, but most of the education is aimed at first and second-year players.

It also starts before teenagers hit the big time, with TAC Cup clubs offering life-skills education to their teenage players.

The Dandenong Stingrays, for example, offer educational experiences on drugs and alcohol, peer group pressure, respect and responsibility towards women, and racial and religious vilification.

The vast majority of high schools offer similar programs.

In the professional AFL ranks, the education is a mix of training conducted by the AFL, the AFL Players’ Association and the clubs.

“We have to, sadly, educate young men about respectful relationships and respect in society,” Ms McLean said.

“We really shouldn’t have to because if someone is raised well at home and at school you don’t need to do this, but you do because it’s just not happening.

“I think a lot of AFL footballers grow up with a sense of entitlement, so they have been feted by their parents, they’ve never had ‘no’ said to them, and they often don’t achieve at school.

“If you look at the academically bright footballers, none of them put a foot wrong.

“If you look at the ones that have gone on to university, they’re never in the paper for this sort of stuff.

“Their whole life has been having this one goal, and there’s nothing wrong with having a goal but along the way common decency has fallen by the wayside.

“Then they go to the clubs and they’re feted again.” Dr Rosewarne said everyone needed ongoing education in this area, not just professional athletes.

“I’d argue every single one of us lacks the kind of ongoing, lifelong sex education that would help us each better navigate the world and sexual relations,” she said.

“Professional sportspeople have added complexities as related to their fame, income, status, which means that they need specific education about navigating the world of intimacy and gender relations.

“This is even more pronounced in a world of social media and where each of us has a camera within arm’s length.

“(It’s) a combination that can get a person, particularly a young and naive person, into a lot of trouble.”

GOD COMPLEX SOMETIMES the fame and adulation that comes with being professional athletes can quickly go to their heads.

In extreme cases, some can even develop what psychologists call a God complex, an unshakeable belief characterised by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege or infallibility.

“We live in a culture that disproportionately reveres elite athletes,” Dr Rosewarne said.

“In the case of footballers, these are young men who are now getting a lot of attention and are experiencing the perks of fame.

“For some of these men it’s likely very tempting to think that ordinary rules don’t apply to them.

“Further, it’s quite possible that they imagine that what might be offensive and abusive if done by an ordinary man is somehow seductive if done by a footballer.” McLean said it was important to not paint all players with the same brush. “I think it (God complex) exists for some of them, but there are some that are very grounded and down to earth,” she said.

“There are others that are not, but that’s society.” Last year Collingwood star Jordan De Goey was not stood down by the AFL despite facing court action on a sexual assault charge.

His case was administratively adjourned last October until April 22. The AFL has made it clear it will not introduce a no-fault stand-down policy similar to the one in place in the NRL.

More than 22,000 people have signed a change.org petition calling for the AFL to implement the policy