Rough justice

Brett Stewart double demeritIt’s been one of the hidden, but seething, stories of the NRL off-season.  A growing sense of disquiet over the injustices meted out to Brett Stewart and the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles by the knee-jerk reactions of David Gallop‘s NRL after the infamous season launch of 2009.  It was a night that exploded into spectacular media hysteria when star fullback Stewart was accused of sexual misconduct by a teenager as he made his way to the front door of his apartment where his girlfriend was waiting for him.

Stewart had just been announced as one of two faces of the NRL advert to launch the 2009 season, and the alleged offense occurred on the weekend before the season kicked off proper.  Within days the NRL had taken a draconian stance, suspending Stewart for four weeks for allegedly being intoxicated in a public place and also fined the Manly club $100,000.  Ironically the other face of the same advert, Greg Inglis, later that year ran foul of authorities after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend – a charge that eventually saw him compelled by a court to attend a men’s behavioral program after he admitted to the assault.

Brett Stewart’s day in court came in September 2010 and ended with him being cleared of all charges.  During a two-week trial several things became evident – the girl in question was exposed as an unreliable witness with mental health issues.  The only other supposed witness, her father, was exposed as having a significant criminal history, including fraud, and is subject to ongoing criminal cases for similar offenses.  And importantly police attending the scene on the night in question gave clear and compelling testimony that Stewart was at all time courteous, cooperative and did not appear intoxicated.

Under oath, in a court of law, these police officers clearly established Stewart’s behaviour and demeanor, and all were positive about his condition and cooperation.  It’s a compelling counter-argument for the rationale put up by the NRL for the suspension of Stewart, and the fine given to Manly.  A rationale of the NRL that included Stewart as face of the game, and the weekend being the one before the season kicked off, being subject to “double demerit points” for transgressions – presumably perceived or otherwise.

It’s been a hidden, but seething story for several months, because Stewart was found not guilty in Grand Final week, and then the thoughts of sports fans turned to the Ashes.  But many fans of the game were left with the impression that an injustice was handed out back in 2009, and that it’s a matter of integrity it be addressed and reversed by the NRL.

If only dodging NRL injustice was as easy as it is for Brett on the field.

This seething resentment and frustration has again exploded as NRL season 2011 gets off to a similar start to 2009 in many respects but one – the NRL’s stance to their new faces of the game getting up to alleged no good in the weeks before the season proper.  The same “double demerit” period a po-faced Gallop used as the basis for the large suspension and fines back in 2009.

First, Todd Carney, a serial offender, is found to be endangering life and limb after being found to be driving under the influence.  Unlike a clean skin Stewart, Carney has long form in the area of alcoholic misdemeanor.  Carney cops a fine, no suspension and the Roosters face no penalty, despite Carney blowing the bag blue the following morning after what must have been one hell of a big night out.

Then golden-boy Benji Marshall is alleged to have assaulted a patron at 3am on Saturday morning, and is subsequently charged.  Surely the new face of the game had been warned about carousing out on the town on the double demerit point weekend?  The NRL have now suggested they will reserve their judgment on this case until Marshall has had his day in court.  He is free to play and there has been no action taken on the Wests Tigers.  If this is not an admission that they got it wrong back in 2009, what will it take?

I don’t think that Benji Marshall should be suspended because when Gallop and the NRL suspended Brett Stewart for ‘drunkenness’ and bringing the game into disrepute they were simply wrong, operating with a knee-jerk reaction to media hysteria that has been proven in court to be incorrect, and soon may be shown to be defamatory.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but what does need to happen is the mistake made in dealing with Stewart and Manly in the first instance needs to be corrected.

What Gallop and the NRL need to do is:

1. Admit their mistake in suspending Brett Stewart despite clear police testimony that he was not intoxicated on the night in question;
2. Apologise to Brett Stewart and compensate him for the damage to his reputation inflicted by the erroneous suspension.
3. Repay the $100,000 fine to the Manly club, with interest.

Which brings us back to the seething frustration of fans who wish to see Brett Stewart have his day of atonement.  Already 650 NRL fans have signed a petition suggesting they will boycott the sponsors of any product advertised during broadcasts of the coming NRL season until the NRL takes a reasonable and conciliatory stance towards Brett Stewart.  They will use social networking to spread news of their boycott, the products involved, and why.

It’s a people’s demand for justice, hitting the NRL and their associated broadcasters where it will hurt most.  More strength to their arm!

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One Response to Rough justice

  1. MUM SAYS says:

    MORE STRENGTH TO THEIR ARM INDEED! WELL SAID. BRETT STUART SURE NEEDS AND APOLOGY, AND RECOMPENSE….. FAIR IS FAIR!

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