Sure, these Sam Burgess allegations are exactly that – allegations. NSW Police and the NRL will investigate the details behind the alleged domestic violence towards his pregnant wife, drug abuse and subsequent cover up by the club.
Innocent until proven guilty and all that, sure.
But you know what? None of us find it hard to believe that this actually happened, because rugby league in particular has a track record where none of the alleged behaviours would come as a surprise.
In case you missed it, or to recap, here’s some of the things that should disturb you about the story:
- A substance-fuelled bender resulting in erratic and intimidating behaviour.
- That his mother had to be called in, going to find her adult sons in a Sydney establishment and deal with the product of their toxic concoctions. (Claims that he’d taken a ‘bad batch’ of MDMA).
- His pregnant partner was emotionally and physically abused, name-called by her Burgess and his brother.
- The fact that a player’s earning potential and career was prioritised above his health. An ambulance was not called, nor was Burgess taken to a hospital following his dodgy cocktail, for fear of the public finding out and his career being jeopardised.
- The fact that a player’s earning potential and career was prioritised above the safety and wellbeing of his (pregnant) partner.
- The extent of the cover up – the club’s Chief Medical Officer prescribing medication in Burgess’ father-in-law’s name; taking urine and blood samples in the darkest, most private part of the club’s underground carpark; submitting the tests under the most generic of alibis – Ben Smith. (Ask yourself, would a 10-game rookie get the same treatment?)
- And was the cover up really to protect Burgess’ interests? Or the club’s? Were they willing to gamble on his health just to keep the club out of the headlines?
- That we live in a society where some people’s immediate response was “You don’t have any real evidence”. There’s a process that needs to be followed, definitely, but how is the default response not even just a baseline level of morality? “Woah, serious claims, I hope his partner’s okay.”
All of those things should be shocking. Reading The Australian article takes time, because there’s so much to let sink in.
But we’re not shocked by the thing that should really be the biggest shock of all.
- Why is there a culture in professional sport that so easily consumes these players?
- Why are they swallowed up by illicit lifestyles, when their whole purpose is centred around the health and peak performance of their bodies?
- Why does the cycle of addiction (insert your preferred vice here – gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex) turn into a self-perpetuating snowball that inevitably ends in chaos, broken hearts, homes and dreams?
- Why is it so easy for these young men to fall victim to these darker parts of society? They’re made to feel invincible, adulated and held on a pedestal – who is preying on them and convincing them to risk it all?
- Why is there not better support and structure to warn players away, especially when rugby league has a mile-long laundry list of case studies?
Life is going to change a lot for Sam Burgess from today onwards, regardless of how many of these allegations are proven to be true.
And what’s not shocking at all, but is immensely sad, is that he’s not alone. There will be other players in a similar cycle right now. Perhaps there are other clubs covering up instances and incidents by other ‘stars’.
Waiting for them is circus of society and media ready to chew them up and spit them out. This is not an apology for Sam Burgess’ behaviour, but should serve as a warning and call to action for everyone involved in the game to protect others from falling into the same traps.
Follow Heather on Twitter