Stewart’s acquittal also a big win for football
Even the most ardent rugby league supporters couldn’t help but admit that some of their idols have an image problem. Whether it’s their talent, their huge paychecks, or their even bigger egos that often lead to galling indiscretions, the public relations side of the sport is like a recurring nightmare.
The testosterone-fuelled violence on-field is one thing, but it’s the all-too-often alcohol-sodden events once the game is over that has given rise to such a reputation.
Not being a fan, I nonetheless found myself watching a match recently and was surprised at how many players’ names were familiar. But then I realised why I knew them - from their court appearances around Sydney over the past few years.
There for accusations of sexual assault, drunken violence or drug possessions, such a fact won’t exactly give the NRL confidence that the millions dedicated to cleaning up the game’s image is money well spent.
But there is a lesson to be learnt following the acquittal of Manly fullback Brett Stewart yesterday.
In the same way that not all American football players are like OJ Simpson, not all golfers are like Tiger Woods nor are all sprinters like Ben Johnson _ not all league stars are shitbags.
We simply cannot continue to tar all individuals with the same brush.
While plenty of players have either admitted to or been found guilty of the conduct alleged, the expression ``oh well he’s a leaguey, he must have done it’’ needs to be banished.
A jury of 12 civilians - most of whom couldn’t look LESS like league fans if they had tried - sat through 10 days of evidence at Stewart’s District Court sexual assault trial, being urged countless times to judge the case on the facts alone - not on opinion or rumour.
It’s a warning given to every jury in every trial, but it couldn’t have been more important in Stewart’s case, who had to fight the charges as well as a automatic presumption against him.
Yesterday was, in the words of one Telegraph reader online, justice in action.
The evidence simply did not support the allegation, and judging by the tears from at least one of those jurors, those independent observers wholeheartedly believed Stewart is and always was innocent of the charges.
His exemplary reputation as gentleman should remain intact following yesterday’s decision - and be an example to some of his football colleagues.
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