Tuesday, April 14, 2015


My one resolution for 2015 is to read more Australian authors (I'm a halvsie, my father was born there). The first "new to me" Australian author I read is Anna Krien, who won the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award (and was short-listed for several others) for Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport. Night Games is a horrific peek into the dark culture of "sharing women" in Australian Rules Football.

The history of the AFL, or footy, is rife with stories of women alleging rape, sexual assault, and/or indecent exposure after an evening with footballers. Most often, according to  Krien's research, a woman consents to have sex with one player only to wake up with another (after the players switch places in the dark) or becomes aware during the act that she is with a different man, or men, or others are present.

Told through the lens of one particular trial, Krien explores the practice and potential rationale behind it, that being a sort of ritual male bonding where women have become pawns:

 [Australian journalist] Jaquelin Magnay hinted at this, writing that 'many women aggressively pursue the players and record a notch on the wall when they score with one. But there is a code among some players that 'bonus' points are given if women are shared among their mates; the more mates, the more points, and the more laughter afterwards.' In response to women upping the ante, becoming more like 'lads' in their pursuit of a score, it is as if certain groups of men have gone a step further in an attempt to reclaim their territory and diminish 'her' conquest in comparison to theirs.

In this sense, a woman defines a man. And if football really is just about men - as many insiders I spoke to claimed, seeing this as reason to leave it alone - then this book would be a waste of space. But it's not just about men. Women have been used - as have homosexuals, aka faggots and poofters - to reinforce a certain code of masculinity and hierarchy.

The trial serving as the backdrop for Krien's reporting is that of Justin Dyer, accused of rape by 21-year-old Sarah Wesley. The scary part of the story is how the trial came about, and how the involvement of two professional players from the Collingswood club was, for lack of a better term, hushed up, leaving Justin Dyer, a former player in the lower state league come to town to get in front of scouts, to take the full brunt of the accusations.

Scary stuff, particularly when Dyer seems to have been one of the least egregious actors on the evening in question. The accusation against him took place on a side street when he was getting a cab with Ms. Wesley, while the alleged gang rape took place in the townhouse they were leaving. Efforts to keep the professional players "safe," as reported by Krien, seem fairly blatant.

The pros went "off to camp" and offered no testimony at Dyer's commitment hearing. Nor were they even called to provide testimony. Dyer was provided representation by the club's attorney at the commitment hearing. Of course, that attorney then disappeared at trial (once his players were protected), and sent Dyer's parents a huge legal bill, requiring them to sell their  home.

At the trial, the judge and counsel "narrowed the issues" to the extent that the events taking place in the townhouse (i.e., with the professional players, the alleged gang rape itself) were cut entirely from the factual scenario. I'm no Dyer apologist and I haven't seen all of the facts and testimony, but the efforts to protect the men who appear to have been the worst actors on the evening in question are galling.

Of course, Australian Rules Football is not alone in the world of sports when it comes to allegations of rape, domestic abuse and the like, nor efforts to keep such events quiet. The NFL has historically had its own issues, even more so this past season. Indeed, as American sports journalist Robert Lipsyte noted, "Jock culture is a distortion of sports," warning that this country is also in danger of "finding its values in a locker room."  Says Krien:

It's not the game, the pleasure of play, that's dangerous. It's the piss stains in the grass, the markings of men who use sport as power and the people - teammates, fans, coaches, clubs, doctors, police, journalists, groupies - who let them do whatever they want.

What I find interesting is the apparent difference between the AFL assault case histories and those in the U.S. I'm obviously not a scholar on the subject, but other than some cases at the college and high school levels I did not find much in the way of gang sexual assault allegations in U.S. sports. We obviously have our own serious sexual/domestic assault problems, but are they really that different?

Are we generally more "solitary" in our assaults? If so, why? Is it because our rosters are, for the most past, much larger and players more transient, lessening (or rendering untenable) the supposed "male bonding" aspect of the AFL cases? Are we more homophobic? Are we better at not getting caught? Or simply better at covering it up?

I found Krien's account fascinating on many fronts, troubling on all. There do seem to be some AFL personnel who see these issues as real problems and are trying to bring reform. Whether they will be successful or not depends on much more than AFL rule changes (or NFL rule changes, in the case of U.S. assault issues) and require a fairly large change in how players are viewed by society at large. To the extent the monster exists, we have all had a hand in creating it, or at least allowing it to continue to flourish.

My $.02:  Night Games is a recommended read if you're interested in the culture of sex and power in sport, particularly in countries other than the U.S. Night Games was published by Yellow Jersey Press and can be purchased through Book Depository. Large Print and Kindle editions are available at Amazon.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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