When sex intersects with ideology, minds close. The ugly little passion play precipitated by Monday night’s Four Corners program “Code of silence” is full of preconceptions and prejudices, but conspicuously short of nuance. People who hate rugby league and bloke culture still hate rugby league and bloke culture.

Paid pontificators see the issues as symptoms proving whatever their pet theory might be. The commentariat, talkback callers and rugby league identities have leaped to positions and conclusions quicker than a caffeinated cane toad.

Most of it has been predictable, but a couple of better brains equated group s-x (where there are multiple men and one female) with homosexual behaviour.

Sartre said, “In football everything is complicated by the presence of the other team”. Guy Rundle and Annabel Crabb seem to think that the “other team” Sartre had in mind was women. The behaviour of certain Cronulla Sharks players in 2002 was, to them, an example of men using a woman’s almost incidental presence to legitimise their homos-xual urges.

So far, so First year Psychology. According to Rundle, “In homoerotic sports like football, (group sex is) a way for team-members to get as close to fucking each other as they can, without having to admit the desire.” The dull tagging of football as “homoerotic” always seems like a failure of the imagination, using just one element of the phenomenon as a way to close off more complex possibilities.

The indefatigable Rundle does, however, offer a nifty bit of class analysis when he suggests that Four Corners is made for and by people who read The Monthly. With the probable exception of greyhound racing (and trugo, if you want to be a smart a-se about it), rugby league is the closest thing Australia has to a working-class sport. Any number of talkback callers have derided the game for its violence and perceived absence of values — but there is a strong whiff that what really bothers them is the nuff-nuffness.

I don’t know if Ms Crabb reads The Monthly, but her think piece in the SMH was half-smart and suggests she is firmly in the school that dislikes rugby league. She falls for the old schoolyard idea that the quickest way to shame boys is via the taunt of homosexuality.

“Those girls are being used all right, but I reckon they’re being used as beards to disguise the otherwise perfectly obvious, screaming queerness of what’s going on,” according to Ms Crabb.

“Come on. Are you kidding? Let’s say it out loud: it’s the gayest thing ever. And these are the same blokes who can’t wait to climb into dresses for stunts on The Footy Show. Don’t think we’re not putting two and two together.”

If indeed the behaviour is motivated by latent homosexuality, then the reason they feel the need for a woman’s presence is to avoid the sort of ha-ha fingerpointing that Ms Crabb is showcasing. The argument itself is not without merit — warrior culture since antiquity has often involved male-male sex but without the complicating factor of adopting homosexual identity — but her tone is odious. Intentionally or otherwise, she subverts the old Seinfeld “not that there’s anything wrong with that” line.

This is compounded by her ignorance of The Footy Show (NRL version). For all its many flaws, and despite the perception of those who don’t watch it, it has rarely this millennium had footballers wearing dresses. That sort of lazy swipe indicates ignorance of the territory but is required to set up some crude group-sex-plus-cross-dressing-equals-homosexual-homoph-bes-so-gotcha! equation.

Because men who hate women also hate poofs, right? And working-class yobs can’t be labelled anything more degrading than “gay”, yeah?

One of the first men into the dressing sheds after Melbourne Storm home games, before family members, is openly gay “Molly” Meldrum. Two NRL players made the final four of the King of the Hardwood competition on a US gay website that has had many other sportsmen refuse permission to use their images. The only “out” gay man in a major Australian team sport was Ian Roberts, the great rugby league forward. Roberts has written that the overwhelming reaction of teammates and the sport overall was acceptance.

There are subtleties and shadings that define how we interact as humans — not blanket ideas of good and evil, not cheap jibes about beards and putdowns about “the gayest thing ever”.

The durable fullback from the Stratford Theatricals wrote of sound and fury signifying nothing. This has been a week of noise, most of it unhelpful. The question of whether there is an endemic culture of abuse in the NRL remains unresolved and not very well examined. Matthew Johns, who could on one reading be guilty of nothing more than adultery and failure to control the behaviour of those around him, has had his reputation and career shredded. Rugby league players who have raped women — and I strongly believe they exist — remain safely free of scrutiny.

The testimony of “Clare” from Christchurch, regarded by many this week as unimpeachable, is now being questioned. None of the liberal commentators have queried whether the ready availability of online p-rn could be a factor, in this era when a bukk-ke clip is just a click away. None of the conservative commentators have demanded that other men with dirty s-xual secrets be removed from the television or public life. We all hear what we want to hear.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey