By STEVE MASCORD
THE two biggest stories since last week’s Discord have involved Russell Crowe and the shoulder charge. They seem completely unrelated.
That is because they are completely unrelated – but I’m going to build a tenuous link anyway. South Sydney owner Crowe, who wants to sell out of the club at the end of next year, is an actor and his best known film is still Gladiator, the story of a Roman warrior from an age when people regularly watch others being executed, eaten, burned and mauled as entertainment.
Recently I was in York, where I learned from a plaque that the location of the racecourse was determined by its proximity to the execution grounds. You could watch someone being hung, drawn and quartered (that is, dangled from a noose until dead, cut open and disemboweled) in the morning and then head to the nags in the afternoon.
It could have been sport’s first double-header.
As a race, we have always had a disturbing ability to separate ourselves from the pain being inflicted before us in the name of entertainment. We still see things on the television news and don’t flinch when if the same events were to play themselves out in front of us, we’d throw up.
But we are repulsed by the very idea right now of watching executions and Roman gladiators for entertainment. Bull fighting has been completely marginalised in the last 20 years, as an example.
We are horrified that rugby league used to have no replacements, and men would play on with terrible injuries (check out Malcolm Andrews’ book Hard Men). We even look back two years and think of players ignoring concussion to stumble through matches as marginally less enlightened times.
At glacial speed, over thousands of years, our taste for finding entertainment in violence is disipating. Unfortunately, our love or war indicates we will never find complete peace but the things we do for amusement are getting more peaceful and civilised – slowly.
Rugby league getting rid of the shoulder charge is just another step along this road. I’ll miss it. You’ll miss it. Maybe it will make a brief comeback, maybe the decision has come too soon, given the outcry.
However, given trends in American sports it is clear that the NRL would have left themselves open to class action law suits from anyone serious hurt by a shoulder charge after doctors publically called for their abolision. Legally, the commission had little option.
In another 200 years, I’m willing to wager that body contact sport will have all but died out. We’ll look back on people breaking bones and getting knocked out to the cheers of thousands with the same sort of disdain that we look at ancient romans.
Yes, they will be banning tackles next. Yes, it is the death of rugby league – a very slow death that started long ago with the intruduction of replacements. It’s evolution, baby.
Make the most of the next couple of centuries, OK?
OH dear. Leeds sign Salford’s Joel Moon after missing out on Willie Tonga.
People calling for a smaller Super League are missing the point. We already have one – they just play against other teams sometimes. It seems that no-one will stay at Salford, Castleford, Wakefield and one or two others if a bigger club wants them.
It’s a terrible state of affairs which hopefully the new owners of the Reds can help remedy but which the RFL needs to address urgently.
On another note, next season is being called the longest ever with Super League kicking off on February 1 and the World Cup final set down for November 30.
I’ve heard ‘longest ever’, ‘best ever’ and ‘worst ever’ a lot in rugby league. We’ve been around since 1895. Can any historians out there confirm this to be the case? I guess it depends on how you define it – somewhere in the world, rugby league is on every weekend of the year.
FEEDBACK time and plenty of responses from our rugby union-loving (or should I just call them sympathisers?) readers.
By STEVE MASCORD