What Roosters captain Mitchell Pearce's lewd act says about the NRL's culture of entitlement

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New Mitchell Pearce allegations surface

Channel Nine aired a video on Wednesday night allegedly showing the Roosters co-captain making lewd advances against a woman and then a dog, on Australia Day.

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If you were looking for a good example of the dismissive attitude some Australians take towards women, you need look no further than the NRL. Time and again, we've watched as NRL executives give nominal punishment to men committing criminal acts of harassment, public nuisance and sometimes even assault. Fines are issued and suspensions given, but very rarely do we see any real action taken to remove these men from their clubs and access to the privilege that seems to allow them to behave this way.

The latest player to sully the average reputation of the NRL is Sydney Rooster's captain, Mitchell Pearce. A video filmed on Australia Day has shown a very inebriated Pearce engaging in several disgusting acts of harassment and degradation while at a house party. The most unusual of these acts depicts Pearce simulating a 'lewd act' with a poodle. Pearce is expected to be stripped of his captaincy, fined up to $50,000 and banned from participating in next month's World Club Challenge in England.

But while it's this pretence at bestiality that seems to have captured the public's imagination (and indeed, provoked such a decisive response from the club), scant attention has been given to the other victim of Pearce's misconduct. Prior to the incident involving the poodle, Pearce was filmed trying to kiss the woman who owned the apartment and to whom the dog belonged. She rebuffs his attempts and after that he sits on her couch, grabs her dog and mimes sexually assaulting it. She takes the dog away, but he repeats the act and says, "I want to f--- your dog and I don't even care." By this stage, the woman has repeatedly told Pearce to leave, noting that he's not only urinated on himself but also on her furniture. He ignores her, and after telling him over and over to "Get out", his friends eventually take him away.

More drama: Mitchell Pearce's latest troubles could mean a lot for the Roosters.

More drama: Mitchell Pearce's latest troubles could mean a lot for the Roosters. Photo: Getty Images

It's not the first time Pearce has behaved poorly towards women. In 2014, he received a one match suspension and a $20,000 fine for allegedly groping a woman in a nightclub as she walked past his table. That woman declined to press charges, but soon after deleted her Facebook page and set her Instagram account to private after her identity was revealed. Speculation combined with personal experience on the internet suggests to me that this tightening of security was likely due to an increase in online harassment from fans disgruntled about Pearce's punishment. I can only hope that the woman involved in this latest example of the halfback's anti-social behaviour is able to avoid the most vehement of the payback undoubtedly set to come her way.


Because here's the kicker. Men like Pearce, particularly when they are enmeshed in Australia's glorified sports scene, are rarely held to any real account for the abuse they inflict on others, particularly women. It's telling that most of the furore around Pearce's conduct is in relation to his treatment of this woman's dog and not the absolute disrespect he demonstrated to both her and her property. Women are just expected to absorb the behaviour of these 'Bad Boys'. Not only do we seem to 'ask for it' just be existing somewhere in their vicinity, but we are also said to secretly want whatever it is that happens to us.

Consider one of the most heinous examples of pack mentality among NRL players in the last 15 years. In 2002, members of the Cronulla Sharks participated in what they referred to as group sex with of a 19-year-old woman while the team was on tour in New Zealand. The circumstances of this case have been largely dismissed by members of the Australian public, many of whom are eager to stress not only that it was 'consensual' but that she 'should have known what to expect'. Never mind the fact that those two concepts are completely anathema to each other (because if real consent exists, no one should need to be told later that they should have expected whatever happened to them).

As reported by Four Corners, what actually happened was this: a 19 -year-old woman consented to sexual activity with two players, including then captain Matty Johns. After this activity had begun, a further 11 members of the Sharks entered the room (some of them by climbing through windows and commando crawling across the floor) and proceed to either watch while masturbating or to join in. The woman later described feeling afraid and outnumbered. And while she didn't say no (because the 'freeze response' is a very real phenomenon), she also never said yes. Even Johns admits to having offered apology to the woman after it was over - not exactly the kind of message that's given if consent was really present. She filed a complaint with police, but was told there wasn't enough evidence to proceed. She now has a documented medical history of PTSD and has attempted suicide on a number of occasions.

And despite all this damning evidence, despite the fact that none of the players involved ever denied or contradicted the report presented by Four Corners, this woman has still been described by naysayers as a 'slut' who 'cried rape' afterwards because she felt ashamed.

Meanwhile, Johns has enjoyed a lucrative career in the media. He currently presents a show on Triple M, a station that takes great pride in partnering with White Ribbon while giving plum on-air positions to men like Johns and Wayne Carey (who glassed his girlfriend in a Miami hotel in 2008).

We have a serious problem with our nation's attitude towards women and it's magnified in the way our sports 'stars' feel empowered to treat them. Would the NRL be responding so comprehensively to Pearce's misconduct if there had been no dog involved? If he'd just slobbered all over a woman in her own home and then urinated on her property? It's hard to imagine so, given some of the other punishments meted out to players.

Another Roosters player, Blake Ferguson, was convicted of indecently assaulting a woman at a Cronulla nightclub in 2013. The player was found guilty of grabbing the woman's vulva beneath her skirt. He received a two year good behaviour bond, but still plays with the club. Cowboys player, Robert Lui, pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend in 2012. Lui kicked the 22 year old woman in the temple and headbutted her. He received a two year good behaviour bond and a paltry $2000 fine. He is still contracted to the NRL.

There are positive examples, but they are few and far between. Even then, when players lose their contracts with individual clubs, they are rarely ejected from the NRL entirely. In 2009, Greg Bird was convicted of glassing his girlfriend and sentenced to a minimum of 16 months in jail. The sentence was later overturned on appeal. Bird lost his position with the Cronulla Sharks, but currently plays for the Gold Coast Titans.

This is about so much more than Pearce's disgusting, drunken behaviour towards a dog. This is about a culture of entitlement and the ways it manifests particularly in the sanctioned abuse of women. I say sanctioned, because what else can it be? When there are rarely recriminations or consequences for this kind of abuse, a message of complacency is being sent.

Pearce is just one in a long line of men who are supported to behave in repulsive ways towards anyone they perceive to have less power than them. And in Australia's sports obsessed climate, no one has less power than the women offered up as the spoils of war for our gladiators.