For all the community work, theme rounds, education programs and genuinely nice blokes in the game, rugby league still has a problem.
A cultural problem.
A behavioural problem.
An image problem.
And a problem with consistency in how they deal with major off-field issues.
Assault. Domestic violence. Performance enhancing drugs. Recreational drugs. Assorted drunken stupidity.
It’s not just that it happens.
It’s that it’s so tolerated.
A player is sacked by a club, cops a fine and then bobs up at another club, one desperate for success and confident of their redeeming qualities.
Of course there are the genuine redemption stories.
Russell Packer served his time in jail after a violent assault and then was made to wait for NRL clearance to play with the Dragons.
The experiences I had when interviewing him were warm and engaging, open and polite. A bloke who did the time and genuinely embraced his second chance and has made the most of it.
Here’s a scenario: Matt Lodge has a huge start to next season and is called into the NSW State of Origin squad.
Would that sit comfortably for you?
Only this week, Lodge signed a new two-year contract with Brisbane, after being called into the Emerging Blues squad last month.
At the start of the year he was booed and reviled by NRL fans as the footage and details of his 2015 rampage, where he terrorised a New York family, narrowly avoided jail and had to pay $1.6m in compensation by a US civil court.
Then coach Wayne Bennett claimed Lodge had since been a model citizen ever since.
So is that enough? We all just move on?
Where is the line? Is there a line at all?
And now Souths, Manly, NSW, Australian and NRL centre Dylan Walker has been stood down by the Sea Eagles and charged with assaulting his fiancee on Thursday night.
He will appear in court on Tuesday.
Only this week, Manly teammate Frank Winterstein was among a number of NRL players supporting the white ribbon campaign, saying “As a father of two boys, I need to raise them knowing how to treat and respect women. For me, it starts at home first, how I treat and interact with my wife sets and example for them”.
The contrast. The cultural contradictions.
For all the good of these campaigns, they’re undermined by tolerating and accepting the unacceptable inside the bubble.
Players, fans, those who believe in the valuable role of women in the game and the Women’s NRL competition need to say enough. Don’t just accept this is part of the culture.