Is stripping players of honours ever justified?

Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler

Should players who win major individual awards, such as the Steve Prescott Man of Steel, the Lance Todd Trophy, the Harry Sunderland Trophy or the Albert Goldthorpe Medal that is awarded by League Express, have their records expunged if in later life, after they have retired from playing Rugby League, they commit a serious crime?

That is a debate they are currently having in Australia, with particular reference to Jarryd Hayne, who was for a long time one of the outstanding stars of the NRL and the international game.

Hayne, who was the Dally M Player of the Year in 2009 and 2014, and played his last NRL game in 2018, was recently found guilty of two counts of sexual assault and jailed for a total of five years and nine months, leading to calls for him to be stripped of his individual honours, including his two Dally M Player of the Year medals.

“Convicted sex offender Jarryd Hayne’s legacy must be wiped from Rugby League history” was a recent headline in The Australian newspaper that was attached to an article written by one of that newspaper’s chief sports writers, the highly respected Jessica Halloran, who suggested that Hayne’s name should be removed by the NRL from all the awards he had been given throughout his Rugby League career.

Hayne is likely to lodge an appeal against his conviction but Halloran has no doubt about what should happen if he isn’t successful.

“Sex offender Jarryd Hayne’s legacy must be wiped from rugby league history,” she wrote.

“Hayne is appealing his sexual assault convictions. He was found guilty of two counts of sexual intercourse without consent and his bundle of rugby league awards must be taken away from him if this conviction is upheld.

“If he loses his appeal, Hayne should be asked to hand back his two Dally M Medals and the two Ken Thornett Medals he was awarded during his time at the Parramatta Eels. The 2009 Rugby League Players Association award should also be wiped.

“Then there’s the Brad Fittler Medal for NSW’s State of Origin player of the series, which he won three times.

“Hayne was a brilliant junior athlete, he is listed in the Westfield Sports High Hall of Fame on the school’s official website; that honour needs to be erased too, especially after the horrific details that emerged in court.

“The future of all of Hayne’s many awards are in the hands of the NRL, the RLPA, the NSW Rugby League and the NSW education department.

“They all have the power to take a firm stance on violence against women.

“A precedent must be set where the game shows the highest intolerance to sex offenders — whether they were contracted at the time of the offence or not — and not a blindness to the brutality of what has just happened.”
Peter V’landys, the Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, has responded to this and similar calls to strip Hayne of his honours by saying, “There will be consideration given and the Commission’s already discussed” stripping Hayne of his Dally Ms.

“It’s not hard to take them away, but we don’t want to prejudice the legal process,” said V’landys.

“We would like to see Jarryd exhaust his appeal process; once he does that we’ll make a decision.”

As a Rugby League player Hayne was outstanding, as we can see from the litany of honours that he won.

Violence towards women is horrible and should be condemned utterly.

But in doing so, should we rewrite the history books, pretending that Hayne didn’t win those Dally Ms and other awards?

Should we only give awards to players on condition that they will never be convicted of a criminal offence later in their lives?

Being a morally upright bloke (or even, in the modern Rugby League world, a morally upright woman) has never been a prerequisite for a player being lauded for his or her Rugby League achievements. Rugby League isn’t played solely by perfect human beings.

Hayne, if his appeal against his conviction fails, will serve out his prison sentence. And that will be the appropriate punishment for what he did.

If we don’t accept that opinion, perhaps we should look through the list of award winners in British Rugby League and filter out any players who got into trouble later in their lives.

I’m always dubious about making retrospective decisions to expurgate the names of people we might disapprove of.

That’s because many years ago I used to read stories about former rugby union players who were written out of their club histories for having the temerity to switch codes and play Rugby League.

I know that’s quite a different context, but it’s one we should be aware of.

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