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In recent years there has been much controversy surrounding bad behaviour of Australian football players from the NRL (National Rugby League) and AFL (Australian Football League). Brawls, bashings, defecation, flashing, drugs, alcohol, you name it, there have been stories about it. There is an overconfidence effect in the Australian populace (including myself) that the players are not paying for their indiscretions. These widely held beliefs do not account for any other alternative explanations of the consequences faced by footballers. But are they really treated differently to the general public? Here I will examine how my beliefs were challenged in examining this issue, how they were changed, and the evidence that made me change them. Firstly, let us go through the six leads of opinion change to illustrate what the currently held beliefs about the situation are according to the general populace (myself included).
1. What do you really believe anyway?
Reactions to a story run on Channel 10 show The 7pm Project called “It’s nearly game over” (Falkiner, 2010) conveyed that the general belief is, that football players are immature men who have never grown up with no respect for other people or the law. One person posted on the 7pm Project Facebook page “Most of them have ZERO concept of reality, respect, decorum, responsibility, or ever doing a hard day’s work in their life.” In reaction to a poll run by The 7pm Project called “Should celebrity criminals be treated differently from the rest of us?” the main consensus posted on Facebook was no, they should definitely NOT be treated differently (“No. If anything they should be punished more because they are in the spotlight and role models for kids. So they have to be better behaved.”) Additionally these people all seemed to believe that the repercussions for celebrities were not as severe as would be handed down to normal people (for example: “Celebrities certainly get treated differently by the media in terms of their crimes and misdemeanours…should they be treated differently? Definitely not.”) Before looking at the data closely, I held this belief. I believed they were all guilty and that they got off far too easily for their indiscretions. There is no justice in our legal system.
2. How well based is the opinion you already hold?
The basis of my (and a majority of Australian’s) opinion comes from tabloid media articles and television and print news sources. Tabloid media reinforces the belief that football players are treated preferentially in the judicial system, reporting only the scandals and not the repercussions. The frequency of the reports within the media of indiscretions committed by football players keeps them constantly in the spotlight fuelling the media fire when anything happens. This is an example of the availability heuristic, in that the general public keep comparing the latest incident with other incidents they’ve hear of in the past. The article mentioned above “It’s nearly game over” (Falkiner, 2010) is an example of this:
“…bad behaviour is not just limited to AFL players. Sydney roosters players…made headlines for misbehaviour in a hotel room, in that they allegedly defecated on the bathroom floor, on the hotel room’s tables…It rekindled memories of [a] teammates’ bizarre incident involving a “stomach bug”, in which he did a number two in a hotel corridor…An honest mistake right?” (Falkiner, 2010)
3. How good are the data?
The data are based on fact, but omit the repercussions of the players’ actions. What is reported in these types of media is the event and not the aftermath. In the case of celebrities however, when the aftermath is reported on and the outcome not to the public’s liking then it is universally decided that celebrities are treated preferentially. Football players in the same situations are lumped into the same high profile category. The data seem to be there…but there is something missing.
4. Do the current data really contradict what you already believe?
If you look closely at reliable news sources, they are more likely to report the whole facts, including the repercussions of the players’ actions. According to these sources, there were quite severe repercussions of the players’ indiscretions that made me question my beliefs.
5. If the current evidence is insufficient to make you change your mind, what would be sufficient?
In comparison to the tabloid media, news articles include more information and fact, there are no visible omissions from the stories, it seems they are just reporting things exactly as they are without sensationalising everything. I had no looked closely enough into these proper news articles before and once I did, they were definitely enough to make me search more and change my opinion drastically.
6. Is it worth finding out about, or is it a case of “why not”?
This is not a case of “why not”. This is an instance of being able to see clearly that there is justice, and the sporting codes are even harsher in their sentencing than the legal system. It is worth finding out about so we’re not giving in to the media flood of sensationalism. True, there are no costs associated with this issue personally. The only costs associated with this issue is upon the tabloid media – their type of media sells purely from the sensationalising of stories by omission of fact and the need to tell a good story (people are ‘believing what they’re told’). If they were to promote the entire story, there would not be as much to speculate about for the public and therefore would not sell magazines (or in the case of The 7pm Project, lose viewers).
When it comes to hearing about football players’ latest indiscretions, many people take the information they’re given at face value. If you are not particularly interested in much about the sport (as I am not) and just hear information second hand from media sources, you don’t bother going to research the issue – you know that when footballers are involved there is going to be a scandal. It becomes a case of Classical Conditioning. You are presented with repeated exposure of a Conditioned Stimulus (footballers), and Unconditioned Stimulus (indiscretions). When eventually footballers are presented to you without the indiscretions, the same response is evident as if the indiscretions were presented (this is the Conditioned Response). Coupled with this is the ingrained opinion that celebrities are treated preferentially in the judicial system, you have selective processing (in that we can notice and recall all of the previous information we have on this topic and hardly any of it is positive).
Once I decided to pursue this issue and researched data sources, it became evident that this response to footballers was not founded on complete fact. Brisbanetimes.com.au has a whole news section relating to footballers and it was here I found a goldmine of opinion changing evidence. AFL player Brendan Fevola was fined $10,000 and stood down from his leadership position at Carlton football club after he urinated on the window of a nightclub in Melbourne. After drunken antics at the Brownlow Medal last year, he Fevola was fined another $10,000 and stood down from the Grand Final parade in Melbourne. More recently, he has been suspended from the Brisbane Lions indefinitely pending further investigation on an alleged incident where he supposedly exposed himself to a woman in a park (Lutton & Brodie, 2010; Brodie, 2010).
Fellow AFL player Ben Cousins ran from a booze bus in Perth in February 2006, was found by police and refused to answer questions, and subsequently was stood down from his captaincy position at the West Coast Eagles. In October 2006 Cousins was fired from the West Coast Eagles due to an accumulation of drug and alcohol related incidents. Additionally, he was suspended from the game for 12 months by the AFL commission, who charged him with bringing the game into disrepute (Lutton, 2010). Yet another AFL player, Wayne Carey was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and resisting police at his apartment. He was convicted and fined $2,000, and had to make apologies to the police and the public for his indiscretion (Smith, 2009).
ABC.com.au reported NRL rookies Sam Brunton and Anthony Gelling were fired for disciplinary reasons, following an incident where they defecated on tables and on the floor in their hotel room in Townsville (“Roosters duo pay price”, 2010). According to the Australian.com.au, their teammate Nate Myles was suspended from the game for 6 weeks and fined $50,000 for defecating in a hotel corridor and inappropriate conduct after being found naked in a hotel fire escape (“Nate Myles defecated in hotel”, 2009). Finally, Matthew Johns, retired NRL player and former member of Channel 9’s The Footy Show, was stood down indefinitely by the network and from his vice coaching position at Melbourne Storm after a woman came forward naming him as a key member in a group sex scandal that occurred in 2002 (“Matthew johns stood down”, 2009).
Now the Matthew Johns case is different to all the others, in that what he did was not illegal at the time and seeing as the allegations came seven years late, and because of who he was, he still had a lot of support. Despite being stood down from Channel 9, he now has his own television show on Channel 7 called the Matty Johns Show. In this case, the only way Matthew Johns was punished for his indiscretion was that he lost a lot of female supporters, and angered and humiliated his wife. In saying that, in the end, there was a pay-off for him – more publicity + more notoriety = television show for the media (in this case Channel 7) to benefit.
In researching for this piece, it was certainly a case of not ‘seeing what I wanted to see’. My expectations of the issue were not confirmed and evidently, were changed. The data I thought I knew gleaned from tabloid media was not sufficient in portraying the whole truth, and I found that data from news sources were more informative and were indeed instrumental in changing my opinion on the issue and overcoming the overconfidence effect and availability heuristic (i.e. not trusting only the sensationalism of stories surrounding footballers). Going through the ‘6 leads’ of opinion change made me realise that what I previously believed was not wholly correct, and instead of showing disdain for footballers when they committed an indiscretion, I know that they are actually being punished, as they rightly should be. Instead of believing what we’re told from the hyped tabloid ‘news’ stories, we need to delve deeper and assess the complete facts that footballers indeed are punished very harshly, if not harsher than the general population, when it comes to their high-profile indiscretions.
(2009, May 13). Matthew Johns stood down by Channel Nine. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.3aw.com.au/blogs/3aw-generic-blog/matthew- johns-stood-down-by-channel-nine/20090513-b33v.html
(2009, July 6). Sydney Roosters’ Nate Myles defecated in hotel corridor. The Australian. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking- news/sydney-roosters-nate-myles-defecated-in-hotel-corridor/story-fn3dxity- 1225746589239
(2010, September 10). Roosters duo pay price for feral acts. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/afl/afl-news/wayne-carey-pleads- guilty-to-assault-20091124-j6ps.html
Brodie, W. (2010, September 8). Strife and times of Brendan Fevola. The Brisbane Times. Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/afl/afl-news/strife- and-times-of-brendan-fevola-20100908-150wb.html
Faulkiner, C. (2010, September 13). It’s nearly game over. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://7pmproject.com.au/3275.htm
Lutton, P. (2010, August 17). Life and times of Ben Cousins. The Brisbane Times. Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/afl/afl-news/life-and-times- of-ben-cousins-20100817-127qs.html
Lutton, P., & Brodie, W. (2010, September 8). Don’t judge me: Fev protests innocence. The Brisbane Times. Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/afl/afl-news/don’t-prejudge-me-fev- protests-innocence-20100908-150pk.html
Smith, B. (2009, February 4). Wayne Carey pleads guilty to assault. The Brisbane Times. Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/afl/afl-news/wayne- carey-pleads-guilty-to-assault-20091124-j6ps.html
Facebook reactions to the news story “It’s nearly game over”. Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/posted.php?id=107787018440&share _id=118182074903828&comments=1#s118182074903828
Facebook reactions to the news poll “Should celebrity criminals be treated like the rest of us”. Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/posted.php?id=107787018440&share _id=159206770763535&comments=1#s159206770763535
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