In a sporting landscape where offensive and costly social media gaffes are extraordinarily regular, few have sent shockwaves through a code as Paul Gallen’s profane tweet has over the last week.
The decorated Cronulla and NSW captain, voicing his displeasure over Steve Noyce’s sacking as Sharks CEO, inferred the NRL were – collectively – ‘c**ts’ in an ill-fated drunken Twitter post while on holiday in Hawaii.
After offering what barely entered the realms of an apology via the same social media platform, Gallen – who, let’s not forget, is currently serving a suspension for testing positive to a banned substance – was slugged with a $50,000 fine by the NRL and ruled out of playing for the Kangaroos in 2015 unless he completes a leader’s accountability course.
A furious Gallen has vowed to fight the penalty, while NRL judiciary chairman Paul Conlon has quit his post in protest of the ‘harsh’ punishment.
“It’s unbelievable – I’ve got to fight it,” Gallen said.
“The last time I didn’t fight something (the ASADA ban) I regretted it; I will this time. How can they justify it? Blokes get fined $10,000 for assault. Others have been arrested and not been fined anything.”
Gallen’s point seems valid on the surface. Numerous off-field atrocities in recent years have received a comparative slap on the wrist; no one would argue the various exploits of Todd Carney, Blake Ferguson, Russel Packer and co are less serious than Gallen’s tirade.
But the worst offenders are generally deregistered by the NRL – not to mention the punishments meted out in court, if applicable – which ensures a far greater financial hit than Gallen has endured; he will be free to line up for his club in Round 1 next season, and only his ego will prevent him from reaping the rewards of another jam-packed representative schedule.
And there’s little doubt it’s his ego, rather than his wallet, that will be hurting more in the wake of this saga.
Conlon, a district court judge and a serviceable fullback in 98 games for North Sydney from 1985 to ’93, stated: “I have never witnessed a penalty more disproportionate to the offending conduct than that dealt out to Paul Gallen.”
“My role as a judge involves ensuring that punishment fits the crime.”
With all due respect to the dignified Judge Conlon, I would argue the punishment is entirely proportionate, considering Gallen’s $1 million-plus salary, the gravity of his comments and the black eye he has given the game – it’s still rugby league’s No.1 story a week later, despite a magnificent opening weekend of Four Nations footy.
It’s time Gallen stopped hiding behind his standing in the game to peddle the ‘poor me’ line and spout off about whatever he pleases without fear of censure. Rather, he needs to realise his status carries inherent responsibility to conduct himself in a dignified manner.
His forthrightness is often refreshing and should be commended, but when being outspoken overflows into self-righteousness – the furore after the Nate Myles punching incident, the long-running ASADA investigation and subsequent penalties, being punished for calling the NRL c**ts, et al – he loses credibility.
While Gallen clearly feels hard done by in the wake of the ASADA scandal, the vast majority of even-tempered thinkers in rugby league consider him extremely lucky to be lacing on a boot at all in 2015.
The inspirational, tireless forward is undoubtedly a modern rugby league great – he was even superfluously labelled a future Immortal by Bob Fulton earlier this year – but his legacy is at risk of being significantly tainted by his recent run of off-field outs.
Conlon also said: “No player in the history of the game has been under as much pressure as pressure, stress and tension as Paul Gallen over the last two years.”
“None of this or his medical condition was taken into account.”
The medical condition Conlon was referring to is Gallen’s private battle with depression, which was revealed early this week. It is, of course, an extremely serious illness, and everyone in rugby league hopes he receives the support he needs to overcome it.
But depression cannot be used as an excuse or a cause for leniency (and I’m not suggesting for a second that Gallen is) for flagrant or repeat offences – see the current predicament Reni Maitua finds himself in for a stark example.
In this day and age, trying to downplay the seriousness of Gallen’s outburst – containing, as it did, arguably the most offensive word there is, that has sexist and misogynistic overtones – is laughable. Would the likes Churchill, Raper, Fulton, Meninga, or even the vitriolic Wally Lewis have got away with slagging off the League in such fashion in their day? Definitely not.
More to the point, though, there’s no way they would have done it in the first place – Gallen’s effort is unprecedented. The 33-year-old’s grudging apology, and his indignation at his punishment, was equally insulting; it seems ‘Gal’ still doesn’t think he’s done much wrong.
Who, in any profession, could have pulled that line and emerged with their job intact?
Dave Smith and the NRL’s battle over this incident is far from completed – Gallen’s appeal aside, they are reportedly at loggerheads with the NSWRL over the veteran remaining in the role as Blues skipper. But the NRL should be commended for taking a hardline stance against a player who seems to think he is above the common laws and the generally accepted standards of rugby league conduct.
If Gallen doesn’t like it, perhaps he should consider a switch to fulltime pro boxing, where his foul-mouthed tirades and histrionics are better suited and more tolerated.