The NRL has been asked about first-grade players in relation to their responsibilities as role models - questions such as should the ‘role model’ title stop once a player is off the field? Does the media put too much pressure on players to be role models?
All players are bound by the NRL Code of Conduct as part of their player contracts, which states that players must conduct themselves at all times in public in a sober, courteous and professional manner, and the overwhelming majority of NRL players understand their position as role models and are responsible members of society.
That said, we certainly acknowledge that the actions of any individual can tarnish the reputation of the vast majority of players who are good responsible people. We continue to work with all stakeholders in the game to minimise the amount of player behavioural issues through a greater focus on player education and welfare programs as well as One Community initiatives.
The first questions we get are from people asking whether these programs and initiatives work – yes, they do, and we’ve seen the results. This doesn’t however mean there won’t be any problems. Players have to accept that they are role models regardless of whether they choose to be and there is no doubt that kids look up to them.
In saying that, not everyone is ready for this responsibility and the Toyota Cup (National Youth Competition) better prepares players now than ever before. Through the focus on education and Toyota Cup programs, the game now has 88% of NRL players with post-secondary school qualifications (more than double since the introduction of education grants in 2004 and up from 44% in 2000). This helps our players to build a life that balances football with other career prospects and interests and should inspire other kids to do the same.
Since the introduction of the Rookie Camp, Rugby League has been recognised as having the most comprehensive induction program in Australian professional sport. Players attend workshops across the following areas: Code of Conduct, Illicit Drugs, Media and Presentation, Alcohol Management, Financial Planning & Gambling, The New Media (Facebook, Twitter, phone messaging), Playing By the Rules (sexual ethics and attitudes towards women), Cultural Awareness, and Men of Honour (developing a personal brand). These workshops are reinforced on a regular basis during the course of their playing careers.
Key education & welfare programs delivered recently to all NRL players include respectful relationships, attitudes and behaviour towards women, social media awareness and safety, presented in conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, Australian Drug Foundation and Federal Government Club Champions alcohol management programs, as well as a Career Transition program.
NRL players have also been involved in key cultural awareness initiatives including Indigenous education and employment expos for 2,000 students in NSW and Queensland in conjunction with the Federal Government’s Department of Education & Workplace Relations’ 'Learn. Earn. Legend!' campaign.
In terms of community initiatives, NRL players spend in excess of 22,000 hours in the community each year, taking part in a variety of activities such as hospital visits, coaching clinics, junior carnivals, and school and community-based activity programs that reach over 700,000 children. The game also raises in excess of $2million for charity annually with the help of our players.
The game’s One Community programs include Eat Well Play Well Stay Well, Rugby League Reads (both primary school based) and the newly launched Dream Believe Achieve (secondary school based) which are delivered to over a 1,000 schools with the help of our players, and include classroom magazines, DVD teaching resources and home readers.
Each week players from all 16 NRL clubs help take a range of Rugby League programs to junior players and school children across Australia, which look at players' roles inspiring young people to make positive lifestyle choices.
Below are just a few events NRL players have been involved in already this year:
• The 10-day Community Carnival event in February saw more than 500 NRL players join the game’s Development Officers to take important health and well-being messages to 70,000 children across 118 towns stretching over 4,000 kilometres of Australia and New Zealand. The 10-day event saw visits to more than 280 schools throughout rural and regional Australia.
• Players from the NRL All Stars team joined 200 students at a local school and also NRL All Stars coach Wayne Bennett for a game of Backyard League, at the official launch of this year’s Community Carnival which was held in Western Sydney.
• The NRL All Stars team joined 200 of the game’s female volunteers and officials at the inaugural Harvey Norman Women in League All Stars Dinner on the Gold Coast in recognition for their contribution to Rugby League.
• The Indigenous All Stars team joined 120 Indigenous high school students for the inaugural 'Learn. Earn. Legend!' All Stars Youth Summit, which included education, employment and personal development workshops.
• NRL players together with their clubs, the NRL and the QRL helped raise donations totaling more than $300,000 for QLD flood and cyclone affected communities.
• NRL players met with 250 members of the Rugby League community and emergency workers from Christchurch following the devastating earthquake in February and delivered a series of activities among schools and communities affected by the disaster, before accompanying the group to the Gold Coast for the Australia v New Zealand Test match.
• The One Community Good Guy of the Month award which recognises the significant community work of NRL players throughout the season has been awarded to the Dragons Bronx Goodwin and the Bulldogs Dene Halatau so far this season.
These are just some of the ways our NRL players are making a positive and real difference to people’s lives. We acknowledge that there is always room for improvement and will continue to do everything within our power to change attitudes and culture in the game and encourage all our players to act as responsible role models, as indeed the overwhelming majority of our players already do.
To find out more about our One Community programs, please visit www.rloc.com.au.