Joel: Private Troubles and Public Issues

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about R U OK Day. I have received some very kind comments about the post and the sentiments expressed in it.

I have been thinking about the issues the post raised yesterday and today as the story of Joel Monaghan has exploded in the digital media. I was interviewed by a researcher from PRIME about Joel’s behaviour and I thought I would use this post to make the points I made to her.

  1. Regardless of the behaviour exhibited by Joel the publication of the story has enormous outcomes for Joel’s well-being.
  2. He is a remarkable rugby player who behaved in a way that most of us would not behave. From now on he is THE player in THAT photograph. All his commitment and skill will be trivialised and he will be the butt of taunts.
  3. The behaviour that took place appeared to be in a private residence. Discussions about a Raiders’ player have to be put in the context of the location.
  4. The photograph that forms the basis of the story was taken by someone and there may have been other people in the room. These people were ‘friends’ of Joel.
  5. The behaviour occurred on a ‘mad Monday’.

The viral story about Joel is replete with statements of revulsion and a statement on behalf of Joel by his manager. The R U OK part of me acknowledges the gravity of what occurred but raises questions about the duty of care we owe to each other.

I wondered:

  • If many people commenting on the behaviour are conscious of and honest about their own fallibility.
  • If the NRL and the Raiders could transform madness into happiness hereon. Rather than ending a season in such a mad way what if the game celebrated with its communities and then left each player to celebrate in privacy.
  • Highly trained athletes are vulnerable to binge drinking and we should find ways to manage their risks.
  • Viral media are viral! The use of the photograph on Twitter and other web sites confirms with unforgiving permanence that there is a fragile link between private troubles and public issues.
  • Joel is described as a Raiders player in all the media accounts. I think we must be clear about identity. At some point each of us acts as a private citizen and accepts the consequences of our actions. If the events around Joel’s story are located within an organised Raiders’ event in Raiders’ premises then we are involved in a different story.

I am absolutely clear that what occurred is repulsive and in my own case unthinkable. My R U OK sense leads me to support a person who will face a desperate struggle to manage his own identity and the stigma of what occurred. Joel is a person from a culture where appalling acts do occur and that become the subject of selective indignation.

When I was asked by the PRIME researcher what I thought this did for Joel as a role model I asked her to think of it as a reciprocal relationship … all of us have a part in role modelling. Most people will be reviled by what occurred but it occurred in a private space with Joel’s friends around him and has been shared globally with people who can choose to have compassion as well as loathing.

Each time a mad behaviour occurs we all think we can learn from it and do something about it. I believe we must not normalise or condone this behaviour but we must be real about personal fallibility that is now shared in a public way.

The ACT Government is being asked to legislate about the behaviour exhibited in a moment of madness by someone who gave the community so much joy in his role as a rugby player. R We OK about our part in this story?

Postscript

Joel left the Raiders on Tuesday, 9 November. This is an ABC report of his press statement. Louise Maher has written a post for The Drum on the topic of Joel’s behaviour.

Photo Credit

Into the Light