So, here’s the thing. We all saw Zak Hardaker make those comments live on TV. I’m no lip reading expert, but I do have a deaf aunt who taught me the basics (only got as far as the bottom lip…) so I do have some small ability here. Even my 13 year old sat up and said “Did he just say what I think he said?”
After Castleford were fined £40k for a small section of fans directing homophobic chants towards Gareth Thomas, everyone thought that Rugby League had seen the back of this sort of thing, and certainly, I can’t remember the last time I heard anything like it on the terraces, and I don’t get to spend every game in the luxurious press boxes, I love chatting to the fans of the sport and asking them their opinion of what they have seen, just as much as asking the players and coaches theirs.
Now the RFL have (rightly) taken their time to investigate what was said by Zak, and banned him for 5 matches, I hope that sends the message to other players that this sort of thing will not be tolerated, either on the pitch, or off the pitch. In today’s ever connected social media world, where every little tweet and Facebook comment is avidly poured over by fans of all sides and ages, it’s all the more important for Clubs to take the lead and employ someone to educate players and staff on the use of social media and on their roles within the community. Players for the most part DO understand these responsibilities, and in the heat and passion of a game, sometimes things get said, but its how the players and clubs, and more importantly, the RFL react that counts.
I’m happy to say that in this case, the RFL have been fantastic. They stood back, avoided the kneejerk reaction that some were demanding, investigated it thoroughly and reached a decision that for the most part we can all agree was a fair and reasonable response to what was said. All of this came during the same week that the UK’s first LBGT club had most of their equipment stolen.
All I can say is anyone who thinks that homophobia is rife in our sport should look at how the rugby league family responded to Martin & Stans call for equipment that they could borrow.
We are lucky to be involved in a sport where things like this are a rare occurrence. I hope that Zak takes his punishment like a man, learns from it and comes back stronger, as we need exciting young players who are ready to be role models for both the clubs and the wider community.