Comment: The gross double standard between sporting captains, Greg Inglis and Steve Smith
Words by Ben Johnston
When Stephen Moore sustained a season-ending anterior ligament injury five minutes into his maiden test as Wallabies Captain back in 2014, sports fans around Australia could be excused for thinking they wouldn’t see a shorter cameo from a national sporting captain in a long while. Unfortunately, Greg Inglis had other ideas.
At approximately 2pm on Monday afternoon, barely 24 hours after being crowned captain of Australia’s national rugby league side, the Kangaroos, Greg Inglis was pulled over after being caught speeding on his way back from the Koori Knockout in Dubbo. Inglis, one of Australia’s biggest sporting icons — on account of his role as skipper of the Rabbitohs and Maroons, as well as his extensive work as an ambassador for Indigenous Australia — easily exceeded the legal limit with a blood alcohol reading of 0.085.
In the hours proceeding his arrest, Inglis had been stood down as Kangaroos captain and would be banned for the coming matches against New Zealand and Tonga, an official statement from the NRL revealed. Prior to this Mel Meninga, coach of the national side, had faced the media alongside NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and Inglis himself to give a statement. If anyone watching was left with a cacophony of emotions including, but not limited to, bemusement, exasperation, denial, pessimism and anger, I can promise you, you were not alone.
The main reason behind my disillusionment? At the beginning of this year three national cricketers by the names of Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were absolutely slaughtered by the sport’s governing body, the media and the general public by doing something that didn’t put anyone’s life in danger, wasn’t against the law but was, tragically, ‘against the spirit of the game.’ In the proceeding months these men proceeded to show genuine remorse both through raw outbursts of emotion, such as the gut-wrenching scene where Steve Smith begged for forgiveness through a vale of tears at a press conference after the match, and action, for example back in June Smith spoke about mental health at Knox Grammar School on behalf of the ‘Gotcha 4 Life’ foundation. If what they did was against the spirit of the game then what Inglis has done should be considered to go against the spirit of life, and in my opinion everyone needs to care far, far more about it.
I don’t know if these events allude to a disciplinary issue with the NRL, a legal reform issue insofar as drink driving is seen as perhaps a minor, forgettable crime, but something seriously needs to change. In the real world being caught in contempt isn’t congruent with committing murder. Some of the statements made at the press conference literally descend this fiasco and the NRL itself into meme status, and some of my personal highlights are as follows:
- Inglis initially stating “I know I did the wrong thing and, while I am disappointed at missing the tour, I accept the penalty,” What. A. Hero.
- Greenberg saying it was difficult to suspend Inglis as he had an “exemplary” disciplinary record — obviously he’s forgotten the time Inglis viciously assaulted his girlfriend Sally Robinson back in 2009, leaving her with black eyes and severe bruising.
- Greenberg also stating that Inglis “deserves full credit for being upfront today by apologising and taking full ownership of his mistake;” what exactly would happen if he didn’t do this? Again, what a hero.
- Inglis saying "I don't think I let my country down but I think I let a lot of people down;” need I say more?
- Inglis saying “Through my playing career I’ve been playing for 13 years and I’ve never had a criminal charge laid against me;” nice to hear this is the new benchmark for national sporting captains, or is it just rugby league players?
My absolute favourite moment however was when Inglis argued his case to stay on as Kangaroos captain, stating “Me personally, I feel like I do (deserve to stay on).”
How this doesn’t undermine any previous attempt at an apology is beyond me. At the least it shows that he doesn’t remotely comprehend the message it sends to the games very impressionable young fan base. Sin number one.
Sin number two is obviously the laughable punishment imposed by the NRL, a punishment that couldn’t juxtapose the year ban imposed on David Warner and Steven Smith any further. These guys were stripped of their income, reputations and passion for a mistake that was bad, but didn’t put anyone’s life at risk.
I’m not going to get into the alarming number of other criminals running around the football pitch during the NRL season, we can save that rabbit hole for another time, however when it comes to national sporting captains our tolerance towards misdemeanours should constantly be analysed. For Inglis to receive treatment even remotely more forgiving than Smith, Warner and Bancroft is completely unthinkable.