The Devolution of Sledging in Sport

When it comes to on-field sledging, today’s athletes are favouring homophobic and racist insults over the highbrow witticisms of yesteryear. The Public Apology’s Dave Edwards argues that this shift is symptomatic of a society in decay…

The “what goes on the field stays on the field” creed is one of the cornerstones of both amateur and professional sport. It’s a creed that sounds good in theory, but – like the First Amendment itself – can unfortunately lead to open slather.

The reason I write this article is this: NSW U20s player Mitchell Moses has been given a two match ban for a homophobic slur in last Friday’s ANZAC day curtain raiser against Queensland.

The insult, in which Canberra Raiders junior Luke Bateman was called a “fucking gay c*nt” during a scrum, was heard by some 100,000 shocked/amused FoxSports viewers last Friday night.

Had it not been picked up by the audio equipment, all parties would probably have shrugged this off as just part of the game. But given it was heard by thousands of kiddies, heads must roll to show the world that rugby league will not stand for such Neanderthal behaviour.

With a banker in charge, the NRL means business.
With a banker in charge, the NRL means business.

For his part, Bateman had been insistent that no charges be laid against the player. And that makes sense: there’s nothing more unpalatable in sport than a dobber.

Meanwhile, the officials – caring folk that they are – have continued to “check on Bateman’s well-being” following the insult. Are you ok, mate?

Moses is the first player to be suspended for breaching the NRL’s anti-vilification code. NRL head of football Todd Greenburg has also ordered that he attend an anti-villification education and awareness program, which he claims will “improve his awareness and understanding of the importance of eliminating discrimination, particularly homophobia, in the game.”

So can rehabilitation work? Or is casual homophobia simply just a part of sport?

* * * * * *

Sport. It’s a pursuit for which people will always go the extra mile. It’s the one-percenters that can give you that edge. Stephen Dank. Peptides. Sports science, etc.

Some people employ sledging as a part of that game, and why not? It exposes the weak while emboldening the brash.

But is it ethical, or moral, to sledge? Is it humane, or fair game, to call someone who you barely know a fucking gay c*nt?

Of course it isn’t.

Homophobia is rife in sport – and curiously, it’s at odds with the locker-room culture that its participants engage in.

Men who spend hours alongside one another – rubbing Dencorub into each other’s joints; writhing with each other on the grass; urging each other: just two more reps; it’s all you! – become strangely sensitive to any suggestion that such activities may be considered slightly homoerotic.

"It's all you!"
“It’s all you!”

When emotionally retarded individuals are grappling for a quick insult – especially in the heat of the moment, with no other visual stimuli or background information to draw upon – they will inevitably fall back on the things that scare them the most: Gays, and female genitalia.

The very phrase “gay c*nt” troubles me the most. Linguistically, it makes little sense. It’s not an oxymoron, but it’s close. Can a vagina be gay? Of course it can.

This uncouth, nonsensical phrase – simultaneously homophobic and misogynistic – has permeated Australian society in recent years. And not just on our sporting fields.

It tells of a society that is still scared and backward. A majority rule, where the ‘other’ is to remain feared and marginalised.

It’s sad that, given the leaps and bounds that society has taken in recent times in regard to same sex couples, “gay c*nt” is still definitely the number one insult on Australia’s sporting fields.

Perhaps sensing this shift, the NRL, ARU, FFA, the AFL and Cricket Australia last month released a joint statement denouncing the use of homophobic slurs within their codes.

Around this time, CEO David Smith said that the NRL would look to slap bans on players who make such discriminatory comments. At least it’s a promise that appears to have been kept.

Stig, an outspoken figure on social issues
Stig, an outspoken figure on social issues

* * * * * *

Personally, I’ve lost count of the times I have been sledged while playing sport. These insults have ranged in tone from light-hearted and whimsical to the downright ugly.

Sledging doesn’t begin at adulthood; it goes right back to the days of the old schoolyard.

I went to a prominent Sydney boys’ school. One where a particularly sordid historical gay rumour made us easy targets on the sporting field.

Essentially, this rumour centred upon an alleged incident, which was said to have taken place on-campus in the early 1990s (or perhaps the 80s). It apparently involved the (unconventional) consumption of an apple-based condiment outside a place of worship.

This salacious rumour provided our sporting opponents with great sledging fodder. Basically, as young men, we were all extremely familiar with homophobic abuse.

I don’t know when “being gay” became an insult, but I do know that I grew up in an era where it seemed to be the default sledge both on and off the sporting field. I don’t know when this phenomenon first took shape, and I do not know a world without it.

But that said, I’d be surprised if Donald Bradman was ever called a “gay c*nt” when piling on the runs for St George in the late 1920s. I know that sectarianism was an issue in Australian cricket around that time – so perhaps pre-war sledging revolved heavily around religion: a highbrow debate if ever there was one.

The Don, favoured religious-based sledging
The Don, favoured religious-based sledging

Even in the 1960s and 70s, sledging lacked the venom it holds today. Ex-cricketers such as Max Walker and Ian Chappell have been on the after-dinner speaking circuit for years, re-telling all the banter from their playing days, much to the delight of bloated corporate bankers paying $150 a head for a two-course meal and a bottle of mid-range Pinot Noir.

Back in Bradman’s day and thereabouts, sport was perhaps less the spiteful, win-at-all-costs pursuit we have come to know it as today. The players were generally amateurs who played for pleasure. Athletes were seen as noble; games were played in good spirit.

I’m not sure what changed. Was it the Americanisation of Australia that brought this fear of the ‘other’ to our sporting fields, or is it a hangover from our colonial days, in which Indigenous people were treated with utter contempt? Am I conflating too many things here with little finesse?

Probably. But somewhere between Bradman and Bailey, Australia lost its way on the sporting field, in the schoolyard and everywhere else in between.

* * * * * *

Today, I think people still play sport for pleasure. We at The Public Apology certainly write about it for pleasure – and I hope both of our readers appreciate us for doing so.

But on today’s sporting fields, there exists an undercurrent of homophobia, angst and despair, perhaps best articulated by the well-known Twitter user: @GradeCricketer.

Grade cricket, suburban sledging at its finest
Grade cricket, suburban sledging at its finest


Here is a small selection of perhaps his most relevant tweets:

“Given I bat 8 and do not bowl, I assume the role of ‘political attack dog’ in the field. Harsh, personal sledging is my forte.”

“I declare that the opposition’s relentless sledging has no effect on my concentration, but each gratuitous insult shakes me to my very core.”

“If there’s an awkward silence in the post-wicket huddle, my go-to phase is: let’s just work fucking hard and get these c*nts out.”

“The bloke who uses his wet towel to whip his naked teammates is obviously the most voraciously heterosexual player in the team.”

Here, we see a confused amateur sportsman who is clearly suffering from an inferiority complex and (quite possibly) latent homosexual desires. In short, he’s definitely the kind of person who wouldn’t think twice about calling you a “gay c*nt.”

But The Grade Cricketer, like all of us, is a product of his environment. And until society changes, or at least matures, the “gay c*nt” throw-away insult is here to stay.

Strangely, at the end of the day, nothing hurts more than being called a homosexual vagina.

By Dave Edwards

No Comments on "The Devolution of Sledging in Sport"

  1. You do realise that @gradecricketer is satirical, right? It ain’t a real person saying real things that he really thinks. He’s sending up the kinds of things that you’re railing against.


  2. You may wish to reconsider your notions of sledging (in cricket) from the 60/70s. From many accounts it was just as bad or even worse than it is today. Good article though.


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