Book Review: Night Games by Anna Krien.

anna krien night games

Everywhere you look lately, there seems to be a promo for Anna Krien’s latest investigative tome, Night Games, and rightly so: it’s a fantastic, impeccably researched and hard-hitting look at misogyny and power in football. I might be a little biased having a vested interested in the topic and, as I told Krien when I got my copy signed at the Readings Carlton book launch last week, the rape statistics she rattled off in an excerpt reading at the event, unfortunately they’re nothing I haven’t heard before.

Having said that, though, Night Games is an absorbing read for those well versed in the misogynistic nature of “jock culture” as well as for those new to the topic. Krien makes sure not to alienate sports fans who may be wary of picking up the book:

“This book is not anti-sport. ‘”Jock culture” is a distortion of sports,’ the American author and sports journalist Robert Lipsyte once noted, warning that America was in danger of finding its values in the locker room. It’s not the game, the pleasure of the 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.” [p. 266]

However, “football is an abnormal society” [p. 70], and nothing reflects that more than the bulk of the book, which deals with “regrettable sex” [p. 73] or rape accusations, depending on who you ask, against AFL and NRL players; “Camel Nights”, in which players bring two women they don’t care for so “everyone gets a hump” [p. 71]; and that infamous Cronulla Sharks group-sex scandal from 2002 that came to light in a 2009 Four Corners exposé, amongst many other examples.

Speaking of Matthew Johns and Cronulla, Krien quotes an anonymous player who laments the stigma of group sex bonding sessions:

“It’s like saying you can’t be homosexual, or you can’t have such-and-such sexual preferences. How can he tell us what to do in our private lives?… We already have so many rules; we can’t drink on these days, we can’t go to these places, now we can’t have group sex. About the only thing we can do these days is go to club functions and just hang around with other players. That’s just isolating us more from the rest of the world, and it could lead to even more violent acts.” [p. 46]

While it’s easy to scoff at these privileged footballer comments, he does make a valid point. It’s kind of like the argument against restricting dangerous dog breeds: the more you isolate a pit bull, for example, the more likely it is to be aggressive to other dogs and humans when it does come into contact with them.

Oftentimes, the difference between a rape allegation and the aforementioned “regrettable sex” is treating a woman well. You know, like a human being:

“‘It’s not during the act, it’s the way you treat them after it. Most of them could have been avoided if they’d have put them in a cab and said, you know, thanks for that, sort of thing, not just kicked her out, call her a dirty whatever, that sort of thing. It’s how you treat them afterwards that can cover a lot of that sort of stuff up.” [p. 183]

But what Krien makes the reader understand is that groupie sex with a footballer is not about the woman, it’s about them:

“A footballer does not look at another human when he fucks a groupie. He’s looking at his glorified reflection—and when he performs, he’s doing it for ‘the boys’, not her.” [p. 200]

And:

“[Sam Newman] said it [the hazing of sports writer Caroline Wilson on The Footy Show] was a compliment of sorts, a sign that the Footy Show culture ‘accepted’ her. In other words, it wasn’t really about Wilson, it was about them. About a subculture of men trying to find a place—albeit a very lowly place—in their world for a woman. Considering that it’s all about the boys, they prey doesn’t even need to be present.” P. 72.

Going back to the group sex-as-bonding scenario, it makes sense that the woman/women would be used as a vessel to bring the teammates closer together. And further to the absence of a woman, we can see this in the social media shaming of the Steubenville victim, for example. The whole team—and, by extension, the town—we’re brought closer together by reliving the girl’s assault on YouTube and Twitter.

Obviously this is one of the more extreme and brutal examples of sexual assault in sport, but Night Games also talks about the “gulf of uncertainty between consent and rape” [p. 73] and the many sexual experiences that occur therein. Krien also comes across as sympathetic to the “… ongoing education about how to negotiate sexual encounters in a way which ensures informed consent is always obtained” [p. 47] amongst the codes, but there’s still a long way to go, baby. This is exemplified by an educational male-on-male rape video that is shown during a training session. Many of the players are noticeably upset, with one lamenting that “You don’t really ask for trouble if you have too much to drink and get raped by a bloke. You don’t ask for that.” I’ll just let the double standards marinate for a bit after you consider that the video shown prior to this was one of mistaken identity male-on-female rape to which the players were less than sympathetic. [p. 188–189]

The abovementioned “grey zone” that exists between the sexes “to explain what was lost in translation” [p. 259] takes the form of the rape trial of Justin Dyer (name changed), an amateur footballer accused of raping Sarah Wesley (also not her real name) the night Collingwood won the 2010 grand final rematch. Many of the reviews of Night Games seem to focus heavily on this “he said, she said”, but Krien expressed relief when facilitator of the Readings event, Sophie Cunningham, skirted that issue. While the trial beautifully bookends all the points Krien makes about the treatment of women in male team sports, it’s not the be all and end all of Night Games. Similarly, though Sarah declined to be interviewed by Krien, thus leaving “all those little erased bits, I thought, hovering around like question marks” [p. 245], I don’t think it does the book detriment. In fact, I can’t envisage how Night Games could get any better.

Related: In Defence of Mia Freedman.

Elsewhere: [The Vine] All Dogs Go to Seven.

This review has been submitted to The Australian Women Writers Challenge as part of their 2013 Challenge.

Image via Kill Your Darlings.

12 Posts of Christmas: In Defence of Mia Freedman.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th. 

You might remember back in July when Cadel Evans won the Tour de France, Mia Freedman said on the Today show that sportspeople aren’t heroes, and a shitstorm ensued. You can read the original post here.

Mia Freedman’s copped it pretty hard in the media the last couple of weeks, ever since her comments about Cadel Evans and sports stars being held up as heroes.

It’s no secret that Freedman is my idol, so I will go to bat for her til the cows come home. She’s the reason I became a writer. She’s the reason I did work experience at Cosmo. I share a lot of her views. Whether it’s just a happy coincidence, or I’ve shaped my views around hers (I started reading Cosmo at 15, a very impressionable age, so it’s more than likely the latter), I don’t know.

I’ve written about my love for Freedman, followed closely by formerGirlfriend and Cleo editor, and current Sunday Life editor, Sarah Oakes, numerous times, and how the incestuous nature of the magazine world ensures a similar writing and editing style from those who work together. Take Freedman and Zoë Foster, for example. Or Oakes and Girl with a Satchel’s Erica Bartle and Musings of an Inappropriate Woman’s Rachel Hills.

Speaking of Sunday Life, Freedman’s column last weekend solidified why she’s a woman after my own heart.

She wrote about spending time with her family, and how planning big events are always a disaster and it’s the little, “mundane moments” that are memorable.

But back to the issue at hand: sportspeople as heroes.

I agree wholeheartedly that sportsmen and women aren’t heroes. (I threw up in my mouth a little bit when Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson stood for the national anthem after Evans won the Tour de France.) Yay, they can “swim fast”, “kick a ball with accuracy”, “run quickly” and “jump over high things”. But how does this make them heroes? It makes them superficial “heroes” or emblems of sporting events in which they did good, but not actual heroes. We can leave that title to soldiers, doctors, activists, social workers, firefighters and others who face death and social injustice to save lives and make the world a better place.

As Freedman reiterates:

“I roll my eyes every time another Australian of the Year is named and it’s a sportsperson. I cringe at the CONSTANT sycophancy and praise heaped on sportspeople and the way they are forever lauded as heroes… How does being highly physically capable make you a hero?”

I read somewhere that it is highly likely Evans will be named 2011’s Australian of the Year, so start warming up those eye sockets, Mia!

I brought this notion up with a coworker last week, who said doctors aren’t heroes just because they’re saving lives. But what about Doctors Without Borders, or doctors and nurses with the armed forces? “Well, that’s different,” he said. Why? Because they’re facing their own death whilst trying to prevent someone else’s? But sportspeople aren’t facing death (okay, sometimes they are), and their payoff is purely selfish.

Said coworker mentioned some AFL “hero” who, back in the ’70s (I think; don’t quote me on this), finished the grand final with a torn ligament and brought the premiership home. Some might call it heroism; others stupidity.

And I think the sportsperson=hero dichotomy is abhorrent, considering the extracurricular allegations levelled at some of them. Is Nick D’Arcy a hero for punching some guy and leaving him with irreparable facial damage? Are the Collingwood FC guys heroes for winning last year’s premiership, with some of them subsequently going on to allegedly sexually assault one or some groupies? How about the world class douchebag Brendan Fevola? Or Tiger Woods? O.J. Simpson? Hardly heroes.

Perhaps we should be looking to sportspeople like Glenn McGrath, who works tirelessly for his late wife’s breast cancer foundation. Or the Essendon FC, who work with schools to improve literacy. While not exactly heroes per se, at least they’re doing something other than hitting and kicking balls.

Freedman writes in a related piece:

“Sporting stars may have great physical skills but that’s all. They’re no smarter or better or nicer or more well intentioned than the average Australian. In fact, I would argue that generally (and of course this is a generalisation), they are less informed, less aware and less street smart than the average bear.

“This is because to become a great athlete, you have to spend many years from the time you are very young, refining your skills. That’s years swimming up and down a pool. Years running around a track. Years kicking a ball or hitting it with a bat.

“Years…

“I’m happy for anyone who CHOOSES to spend years of their life dedicated to their sport. Go for it. But let’s not pretend it’s a selfless or noble pursuit.

“Professional athletes do it for many reasons. Sponsorship dollars. Personal satisfaction. A desire to represent their country or be the best at swimming or kicking or hitting or whatever it is they’re good at.”

Without humiliating anyone, I find the “less informed, less aware and less street smart” contention is particularly true of one of my physically gifted friends.

While he has a Masters and is one of the most book-smart people I know, he admitted to me that until he was in his late teens, he was completely sheltered by his parents. So much so that he didn’t buy his first CD until around this age. Up to that point, he listened to whatever his parents wanted to listen to, because it was pretty much school, practice, competitions, and the only musical exposure he got was in the car on the way to said school, practice, competitions.

Now the kind of sports he plays aren’t exactly your true blue AFL or cricket (in fact, they’re so obscure I won’t mention them here at the risk of giving him away!), so he’s in another boat altogether: his sports would be, and have been, ridiculed by both your Aussie bogan and your highbrow cultured Australian.

Now, from what I’ve read, Cadel Evans is involved in other noble pursuits, like charity. Unfortunately, I think Freedman’s point was sullied by using Evans to bring it up on national television. Perhaps if she were talking about Stephanie Rice or Ben Cousins her contention would have been more well received. But that’s the risk you run when you voice an opinion that’s not of the norm.

And that’s why I love her. Sure, she got crapped on by most of Australia for making a valid point. But she was able to return to voicing her opinion on Today the same time the following week, joking about going into witness protection, but getting a haircut instead. She was able to find the humour in the situation, and see where she might have been wrong.

For the record, I don’t think she was wrong.

Related: In Defence of Mia Freedman.

Everything They Touch Turns to Gold.

Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood By Mia Freedman Review.

Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Cadel Evans: Is He a Hero?

[MamaMia] Cadel: Here’s What I Learned.

[MamaMia] Is Being Australian Really So Much About Gold Medals?

[MamaMia] Stephanie Rice. Enough With the Hero Worship.

[MamaMia] When Family Time is a Nightmare.

In Defence of Mia Freedman.

 

Mia Freedman’s copped it pretty hard in the media the last couple of weeks, ever since her comments about Cadel Evans and sports stars being held up as heroes.

It’s no secret that Freedman is my idol, so I will go to bat for her til the cows come home. She’s the reason I became a writer. She’s the reason I did work experience at Cosmo. I share a lot of her views. Whether it’s just a happy coincidence, or I’ve shaped my views around hers (I started reading Cosmo at 15, a very impressionable age, so it’s more than likely the latter), I don’t know.

I’ve written about my love for Freedman, followed closely by former Girlfriend and Cleo editor, and current Sunday Life editor, Sarah Oakes, numerous times, and how the incestuous nature of the magazine world ensures a similar writing and editing style from those who work together. Take Freedman and Zoë Foster, for example. Or Oakes and Girl with a Satchel’s Erica Bartle and Musings of an Inappropriate Woman’s Rachel Hills.

Speaking of Sunday Life, Freedman’s column last weekend solidified why she’s a woman after my own heart.

She wrote about spending time with her family, and how planning big events are always a disaster and it’s the little, “mundane moments” that are memorable.

But back to the issue at hand: sportspeople as heroes.

I agree wholeheartedly that sportsmen and women aren’t heroes. (I threw up in my mouth a little bit when Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson stood for the national anthem after Evans won the Tour de France.) Yay, they can “swim fast”, “kick a ball with accuracy”, “run quickly” and “jump over high things”. But how does this make them heroes? It makes them superficial “heroes” or emblems of sporting events in which they did good, but not actual heroes. We can leave that title to soldiers, doctors, activists, social workers, firefighters and others who face death and social injustice to save lives and make the world a better place.

As Freedman reiterates:

“I roll my eyes every time another Australian of the Year is named and it’s a sportsperson. I cringe at the CONSTANT sycophancy and praise heaped on sportspeople and the way they are forever lauded as heroes… How does being highly physically capable make you a hero?”

I read somewhere that it is highly likely Evans will be named 2011’s Australian of the Year, so start warming up those eye sockets, Mia!

I brought this notion up with a coworker last week, who said doctors aren’t heroes just because they’re saving lives. But what about Doctors Without Borders, or doctors and nurses with the armed forces? “Well, that’s different,” he said. Why? Because they’re facing their own death whilst trying to prevent someone else’s? But sportspeople aren’t facing death (okay, sometimes they are), and their payoff is purely selfish.

Said coworker mentioned some AFL “hero” who, back in the ’70s (I think; don’t quote me on this), finished the grand final with a torn ligament and brought the premiership home. Some might call it heroism; others stupidity.

And I think the sportsperson=hero dichotomy is abhorrent, considering the extracurricular allegations levelled at some of them. Is Nick D’Arcy a hero for punching some guy and leaving him with irreparable facial damage? Are the Collingwood FC guys heroes for winning last year’s premiership, with some of them subsequently going on to allegedly sexually assault one or some groupies? How about the world class douchebag Brendan Fevola? Or Tiger Woods? O.J. Simpson? Hardly heroes.

Perhaps we should be looking to sportspeople like Glenn McGrath, who works tirelessly for his late wife’s breast cancer foundation. Or the Essendon FC, who work with schools to improve literacy. While not exactly heroes per se, at least they’re doing something other than hitting and kicking balls.

Freedman writes in a related piece:

“Sporting stars may have great physical skills but that’s all. They’re no smarter or better or nicer or more well intentioned than the average Australian. In fact, I would argue that generally (and of course this is a generalisation), they are less informed, less aware and less street smart than the average bear.

“This is because to become a great athlete, you have to spend many years from the time you are very young, refining your skills. That’s years swimming up and down a pool. Years running around a track. Years kicking a ball or hitting it with a bat.

“Years…

“I’m happy for anyone who CHOOSES to spend years of their life dedicated to their sport. Go for it. But let’s not pretend it’s a selfless or noble pursuit.

“Professional athletes do it for many reasons. Sponsorship dollars. Personal satisfaction. A desire to represent their country or be the best at swimming or kicking or hitting or whatever it is they’re good at.”

Without humiliating anyone, I find the “less informed, less aware and less street smart” contention is particularly true of one of my physically gifted friends.

While he has a Masters and is one of the most book-smart people I know, he admitted to me that until he was in his late teens, he was completely sheltered by his parents. So much so that he didn’t buy his first CD until around this age. Up to that point, he listened to whatever his parents wanted to listen to, because it was pretty much school, practice, competitions, and the only musical exposure he got was in the car on the way to said school, practice, competitions.

Now the kind of sports he plays aren’t exactly your true blue AFL or cricket (in fact, they’re so obscure I won’t mention them here at the risk of giving him away!), so he’s in another boat altogether: his sports would be, and have been, ridiculed by both your Aussie bogan and your highbrow cultured Australian.

Now, from what I’ve read, Cadel Evans is involved in other noble pursuits, like charity. Unfortunately, I think Freedman’s point was sullied by using Evans to bring it up on national television. Perhaps if she were talking about Stephanie Rice or Ben Cousins her contention would have been more well received. But that’s the risk you run when you voice an opinion that’s not of the norm.

And that’s why I love her. Sure, she got crapped on by most of Australia for making a valid point. But she was able to return to voicing her opinion on Today the same time the following week, joking about going into witness protection, but getting a haircut instead. She was able to find the humour in the situation, and see where she might have been wrong.

For the record, I don’t think she was wrong.

Related: Everything They Touch Turns to Gold.

Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood By Mia Freedman Review.

Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Cadel Evans: Is He a Hero?

[MamaMia] Cadel: Here’s What I Learned.

[MamaMia] Is Being Australian Really So Much About Gold Medals?

[MamaMia] Stephanie Rice. Enough With the Hero Worship.

[MamaMia] When Family Time is a Nightmare.

Image via ArtsHub.

Back to the Draw-ing Board: Australia’s Year of Indecision.

 

After the St. Kilda-Collingwood Grand Final draw on Saturday afternoon, I mentioned to a friend, “It’s been a year of draws.” And she was like, “What?” And I was like, “The Federal election, hello?!”

But her comment certainly summarises Australia’s reaction to our hung parliament as opposed to the Grand Final draw; we care far more about our sport than we do about our government.

While the Julia VS. Tony battle waged on for weeks after we went to the polls, it looks like we’re going to have to succumb to Grand Final festivities all over again next weekend. Joy.