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May 18, 2009 | by  | in News |
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The Cautionary Tale of Matty Johns

Matthew Johns is a larrikin. After his decorated career in the 13-man code came to a close in 2002, he carved himself a niche as something of a comedian on Australian television’s The Footy Show. The best way to describe Johns’ efforts on television is to imagine Marc Ellis strapped to the gills with laddish guile, but with a far greater penchant for dick jokes and funny wigs. He’s a boy—a guy’s guy—and strangely enough, he also enjoys fornicating amonga naked slab of grown men.

But Johns’ deviant acts and his loutish disposition should not be the focal point surrounding lascivious leaguies and their dodgy dealings. Johns was 1 of 11 players who allegedly took turns to pass the then 19-year-old naïve Christchurchian woman around like a practice ball, and yet he finds himself rocking back and forth across the gallows while the “Something Needs To Be Done-ites” ready the rope. He is the victim of his own cult of personality; an easy target upon whom to pin the underlying evils prevalent in the mind of dirty, horny sportsmen.

And why not, you ask? Every cause needs a poster boy, and “Matthew Johns: Bangs 19-year-olds (with a little help from 11 others…)” rolls off the tongue like something better left at a Christchurch hotel in 2002. Nevermind then that if machinations are to be hatched in the name of moral crusading, efforts should be pointed towards the inclement moral climate that exists in rugby league itself.

One of New Zealand’s most prolific sports psychologists, Professor Gary Hermansson, contends that the kind of drunken fun and frivolity so many sportsmen in New Zealand and Australia cause headlines for was borne from the intense pressure of professional sport. But he emphasises that reactionary measures, such as total drinking bans, would be a fruitless waste of time.

“A drinking ban would never work as players would resent it and find ways round it. They have got to take some responsibility themselves,” he told the Otago Daily Times.

“If you look at someone like Jimmy Cowan and the way he plays the game. He is aggressive and full of fire. That’s what makes him a good player. But that makes him a risk in some environments off the field.”

Testosterone bears a striking resemblance to alcohol in a sense; it is often difficult to control in large quantities, and it is the nectar upon which hotels and bars buzz. But like alcohol, testosterone is a natural thing, whatever way you slice it.

Many will chastise our sporting heroes for their deplorable behaviour off the field—or for even less, as the case of cricket’s favourite whipping boy, Jessie Ryder, has shown. But the evils that inflect the off side of professional sport lie deep within the DNA of a boozy culture both rugby league and rugby union feature in, but by no means dominate.

Johns looks set to bear the cross for this one, whether rightly or wrongly. Silly wigs and cock jokes may feature less on fluffy Australian sports programmes, and the culture that allowed this all to happen will continue to occupy centre stage.

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