I received a text message late on Monday night from a dedicated Penrith Panthers fan, warning me that a story would break in the mainstream media the next morning that wasn’t a great look for the club, or the game of rugby league.
I woke up Tuesday morning, saw the story and days later, I’m still scratching my head trying to work out what all the fuss is about.
I’m referring to The Daily Telegraph’s story on Tuesday that focused on Penrith’s ‘Mad Monday’ celebrations.
‘Mad Monday’ is the term given to the celebrations that happen the day after the long, arduous National Rugby League season wraps up for a particular club.
The Telegraph’s story, which then sparked furious discussion and debate on radio and in other media, focused on the fact that bikini-clad waitresses served players drinks during a three hour private cruise on Sydney Harbour.
Don’t just gloss over the word ‘private’ I used to describe the event.
It is important to note that this event was not held at a public bar or hotel, nor was the media invited.
The Daily Telegraph chose to intrude on the event, taking photographs from either the wharf or another boat.
When they couldn’t find a story, they created one. Can’t waste those pictures of girls in lingerie serving drinks, can we?
Let’s be exceptionally and seriously clear here that there is no suggestion any Penrith player was or has been involved in an incident on this day.
In fact, there is nothing to indicate that the players did not behave impeccably.
And police have confirmed to the Telegraph’s prying eyes that there were no reports of any disturbances.
So what’s the problem here?
To suggest that players or the club have done something wrong because part of the day’s entertainment on Monday was waitresses in bikinis is beyond ludicrous.
Writing in the Telegraph on Wednesday, Richard Hinds went on a tirade suggesting that Mad Monday should be replaced with Family Monday.
“Bring the wives and kids,” he wrote.
Let’s bring the kids to the work Christmas party too, eh Richard?
And hey, when your wife’s friend gets married, make sure you’re invited to the Hen’s night and I want no adult-themed games or topless waiters, you hear me?
Parties at Richard’s house must be a hoot.
The “make it a Family Monday” argument is fundamentally flawed and shows a real lack of respect to players who regularly visit ill children in hospital, attend community events or assist in projects in their club’s junior ranks. You would not a find a sport that better connects with the community.
When the Telegraph does report on those good news stories, it acts as though it is a rarity when in truth, it is the rule rather than the exception.
Our league reporter often cuts a lonely figure when he’s out at some of these feel-good stories, because the wider media is very rarely interested.
This is not intended to be a Telegraph bash-up but as we recover from the Federal Election and the way that same publication focused some of its editorial content, there needs to be a realisation of the role the mainstream media plays in framing opinions and perceptions.
It does not help when players are made out to be immature, highly paid cavemen drowning in alcohol and women.
Yes, there was a party to celebrate the season and yes, it involved women serving alcohol in their underwear.
And guess what? It wasn’t the first time these girls have done it. I’m sure they make some fairly good money out of it because – shock, horror – it’s not just rugby league players one day a year who hire their services.
Most of these players are in their 20’s – God forbid that they may be interested in looking at attractive girls and having a few drinks.
I can also reveal that the leadership shown by senior members of the Panthers at the event was first class and ensured everything remained on track and incident-free.
Yes, there’s incidents involved in ‘Mad Monday’ every now and again that are less than desirable.
Bad, illegal behaviour should not be accepted, just as it wouldn’t be accepted at a work Christmas party or on a night out in the city. But to invent a story, and to drag players through the mud for no reason, is just wrong and unfair.
In truth though, it’s like banging your head up against a brick wall.
After all, in the inside back column written by Richard Hinds in Wednesday’s Telegraph, there’s a huge photo of the Panthers’ celebrations and another of Eels star Reni Maitua, but not one of Mitchell Allgood.
Allgood, who plays for Parramatta, actually did do something wrong last weekend and has been charged with drink driving.
The fact that Penrith’s event remains the focus despite Allgood being charged for a serious offence perhaps sums up how wrongly placed the debate is on ‘Mad Monday’.
If only he had a lingerie-clad waitress in the passenger seat, perhaps then, it would be a worthy story.
If Richard Hinds is so worried about the way footballers are portrayed in society and the way they act, perhaps he should have a chat with his bosses who hired a boat and essentially spied on and photographed a private event from afar. Whose behaviour was worse?
I also want to pick up on another point in his column today, where he said having cheerleaders at footy matches was “sadly dated” and “demeaning”. Personally, I think it’s the opposite. If a young dancer with dreams and aspirations wants to join a cheerleading squad, gain professional experience and get paid to be involved in the sport at its highest level (the NRL), I say go for it.
It seems Richard would prefer pre-match entertainment of high tea and scones – presumably made by the women who can no longer dance in his world.
And I thought ‘Footloose’ was only a movie.