Who cares if Ben Barba is a ‘gentleman’ on the field
When is an alleged woman basher not an alleged woman basher? When he still has a viable rugby league career, apparently.
At least this seems to be the subliminal message that can't be shifted, despite systemic attempts.
Of course, it is not right to taint the NRL as somehow being the only section of society that has a problem with domestic violence.
There are plenty of good men in the game. And the NRL has made serious attempts to rectify the game's reputational damage (and protect it from feared financial ruin of sponsorship loss).
Former NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg last year drew a "line in the sand" against violence against women.
The NRL and ARL's "no-fault stand down" was a divisive rule that immediately banned any player facing criminal charges from playing.
"We won't tolerate misbehaviour and the sanctions will be extremely strong, especially for violence against women," Greenberg said at the time.
The NRL also went so far as to backdate the controversial "no-fault stand down" to include St George Illawarra forward Jack de Belin's charges over the alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman in 2018. He has pleaded not guilty.
His trial has been pushed back to November, but de Belin, who has not played a game since September 2018, finishes his contract in October.
If convicted, he faces a potential life sentence. But if found not guilty, the 30-year-old player must try to resurrect his career even though he has not played professionally in 2½ years.
Yet despite this tough stance, somehow the NRL's "line in the sand" has faded … at least for some.
This could not have been more apparent when role models and ambassadors of the game came forward to defend Ben Barba last week.
"A gentleman on the field," was how Cowboys star recruit Valentine Holmes described Barba in a glowing character reference tendered in court.
Daly Cherry-Evans also defended his friend, writing to the court that "becoming a professional athlete doesn't automatically give you the ability to deal with your emotions".
Come again? What happened to the NRL's "line in the sand"?
While it must be stated that Barba has never been charged or convicted over domestic violence and he denies any wrongdoing, unproven allegations (including a 2013 photograph showing his partner's bloodied, swollen face allegedly caused by Barba) have been made.
The star fullback had his contract torn up by the North Queensland Cowboys and was deregistered 'for life' by the NRL last year after he allegedly attacked his partner outside a Townsville casino.
The Dally M medallist was sentenced to community service, after pleading guilty to two counts of public nuisance over an argument with his partner and mother of his four children Ainslie Currie on Australia Day.
Barba allegedly grabbed her by the throat, pinned her against a wall, tackled her to the ground, hit her in the head with a shoe and threw rocks at her, the Mackay Magistrates Court heard. Ms Currie did not press charges.
But when NRL bosses saw the CCTV footage of the alleged attack, their response was swift.
"The game has to take a tough stand against domestic violence or it has no future," ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie tweeted at the time.
Yet Barba was only 43 hours into his 150 hours of community service when he punched his brother-in-law Adrian Currie in the face for calling him a "woman basher" in February.
Barba pleaded guilty to assault occasioning bodily harm, breaching bail and failing to complete a community service order. He was last week fined $2300 and ordered to pay $1000 compensation to Mr Currie.
Magistrate James Morton ordered no conviction be recorded so Barba could play rugby league in Spain with the Valencia Hurricanes next year.
Barba's lawyer, Campbell Maccallum, said his client was hoping to further his rugby league career, "whether that be in Spain or Australia or in the Super League competition".
The irony that de Belin must stall his career for years, potentially forever, while Barba gets yet another chance, is laughable.
Sure, Barba was one of the greatest players in the world, but 18 months of patatas bravas and sangria and before you can say andale he's back in Australia playing league would be a joke.
If the NRL heavyweights want to maintain their commitment to protecting the reputation of the game they must address this hypocrisy, but most importantly they must eradicate the culture of player denial.
As rugby league role models, Cherry-Evans and Holmes should remain silent on Barba - and any player facing criminal charges.
No matter how talented a player may be, they are not epitomised by 80 minutes on a field but by the further 22 hours and 40 minutes they spend each day in the community.
Only then can you judge whether a player is a "gentleman".
Originally published as Who cares if Ben Barba is a 'gentleman' on the field