Todd Carney’s ostracism from rugby league raises the question that the sport has been playing catch-up with for seasons, and the one it now can’t avoid.
His piss-de-resistance begs the question: where does duty of care end and personal responsibility start?
It could be argued the North Queensland Cowboys answered it in 2012.
A magistrate fined new signing Robert Lui $2,000 and placed him on a two-year good-behaviour after Lui pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend.
Burwood court was told a drunken Lui headbutted Taleah Rae Backo and kicked her in the head after the Wests Tigers’mad-Monday celebrations.
His new club, the Cowboys suspended Lui indefinitely and supported him while he attended counselling.
Had Lui have been jailed, there would have been little argument, given the nature of the offence.
As it was, sections of the media tore into the Cowboys, saying Lui was a low-life who should have been sacked, then metaphorically kicked straight between the posts for good.
There would have been little argument with that action either.
But it wasn’t as simple as “throw away the key and his rugby-league career.”
Should they look into the dark parts of their souls, most men might admit they are capable of the domestic violence they read about. But few could imagine head-butting or kicking a pregnant woman in the head, drunk or sober.
That’s beyond most imaginings.
Lui was given one talent in life, one way of creatively expressing himself, one way of earning a substantial income.
Domestic violence is a major societal issue (in western Sydney the biggest crime issue, police say). The risk was that ending Lui’s career would achieve nothing, that he could subside into more drunken violence should the chance of rehabilitation be denied.
His one means of providing for his partner and his child would be denied him.
Lui did the counselling, had his season away from football and returned.
The Cowboys showed patience, gave Lui the chance of redemption. So far, so good.
So should Carney be ostracized?
Of course not. He should be celebrated, made player of the year.
At a time when the soccer World Cup, the AFL and Wimbledon are competing for the headlines, Carney has made the big game bigger, got the greatest game of all on the front page where it belongs, and leading the news.
And he’s done it in an original way.
None of your usual drunken violence or groping women. That’s passé.
If a Ben Cousins stumbling out of a car, his naked tattooed torso on show, is the image of the AFL bad boy, then the image of…….
Only kidding, folks. We can’t have the Carney image but we can have the description, and he will forever symbolise the cliched moronic, inarticulate, football boofhead for the non-aficionado.
Cronulla and the NRL had no choice but to punt Carney.
He’s pissed his life up against the wall.
Like Lui, Carney was given one great talent – a talent that placed him among the elite – one means of making riches.
Unlike Lui, he didn’t commit a serious assault but it wasn’t a victimless action. And he’s a repeat offender.
He’s betrayed his team-mates, his embattled club and the game that held the literal and figurative riches in prospect.
And his piss-de-resistance was preceded by the full spectrum of drunken and automobile atrocities.
The parental fan with a mortgage and young fans to support will feel no sympathy for someone who gave himself a suicide pass when he could have won millions.
The most revealing thing about Carney was his reaction to the sacking. It was his reaction that underscored why it was appropriate.
For Carney, there was no care taken and no responsibility. He blamed Sharks CEO Steve Noyce. The boss had it in for him, and had now sacked him from two clubs.
In other words, Carney is that familiar football figure; possessing a PhD in football intellect on the field and existing at kindergarten level off it.
There have been lots of real intellects who have reached the top in rugby league: doctors, optometrists, civil engineers, lawyers.
Probably no more.
The demands of professional football all but preclude the concurrent pursuit of higher education.
This places a greater duty of care on football clubs and the NRL.
What to do so that the game isn’t populated by more Carneys, who think all perceived good fun can be forgiven because of a talent to play football.
Well, there are schools – alleged educational institutions – who vacuum up footballers from near and far.
The recruits, many already snapped up by clubs, stay through Years 11-12 just to play football.
Classes are incidental, a necessary interregnum until the non-students become football stars and make lots of money. But for every one who makes it, there are whole classrooms who don’t.
The NRL could end elite inter-school competitions, and go back to inter-zone matches.
Clubs could be stopped from signing players until the hopefuls turn 17.
Young signings could have to pass independently-conducted basic literacy and numeracy exams.
Fail, and they have to come back in a year.
And Carney and pigs might fly.
So what will become of him?
Well, there have always been clubs willing to bank on reforming bad boys. Always will be. Carney can win football games, so an English club might snap him up.
If not, there are limited options for someone tattooed virtually from head to toe, who never worried about an education because he was top of the class at football.
If so, at least he can look in the mirror and blame Steve Noyce.
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