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A bitter taste? Todd Carney, masculine football culture and scandal

By Rob Cover - posted Thursday, 3 July 2014


NRL player Todd Carney was swiftly sacked by the board of the NRL sharks after an image of him apparently urinating on his own person went viral.

The image, taken in the toilets of a Sutherland Shire nightclub, showed the player staging the urination prank for a photo.

The squeamishness of the public, media and NRL officials alike is, of course, not real disgust but the theatrical performance or pretence of disgust that is used to shame Carney in the context of scandal reporting.

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Vulgar and distasteful? Yes-for a role-model, a celebrity, a public figure or even a private individual, not really something one might wish one's grandmother to see. At the same time, however, No-in a contemporary masculine party culture, boys do daring things, lads transgress boundaries as part of masculine jostling and joking, and a group of friends out enjoying time together do the unexpected in ways which produce shared humour that engages the group and bonds us as friends. There is nothing unusual about this kind of behaviour

Criminal and obscene? Compared with very recent scandalous events that involve the abuse of those made vulnerable in media coverage, such as the child sexual assaults of Hey Dad's Robert Hughes, or Australian icon Rolf Harris, or indeed Carney's own prior causes for being sacked such as drink driving, setting a man on fire and urinating on another man, there is no comparison. Carney was not exactly urinating without consent again on another person. It was, after all, his own urine and his own person. Just bodies and bodily fluids - a little abject but certainly not an act of violence.


The important question is not to ask whether or not the image was vulgar or offensive, since there can be no clear, reasoned, common shared response to this. Rather, it is to ask what are the conditions that make such an image 'scandalous' to the extent that it becomes a media story or the extent that it warrants a sacking from the club.

Understanding sportsplayers' off-field scandal

Whether football scandals centre on sex, sexual assault, violence, drugs, alcohol or gambling, they are almost always inflected by the culture of masculinity that is endemic to contemporary male team sports. However, the ways in which gender is the focal point of scandalous behaviours need to be teased out, as masculinity is often the unstated, invisible norm of football culture.

Many contemporary scandals involving footballers are produced through a combination of hypermasculinity in a culture in which masculinity as a facet of identity is in flux, the traits and stereotypes which allow footballers to be seen as local or national heroes, and the contemporary status of footballers as celebrities.

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Together, these three elements form not only the backdrop through which footballer scandals occur, but are the framework by which both public and private behaviours, incidents and acts are converted into scandal reportage. That is, footballer scandals are not just the reporting of something unusual, vulgar, criminal or problematic, but are an 'effect' of the institution of masculine team sports in Australia.

Masculinity

It is telling that the site in which Carney's allegedly scandalous and supposedly vulgar image was taken was in front of a urinal in the men-only space of the lavatory. The behaviour that was photographed is only vulgar in the sense that it makes explicit some of the more hypermasculine, boyish, laddish behaviour that is-in perhaps a remarkably juvenile way-a representation of masculine toilet humour.

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About the Author

Dr Rob Cover is Associate Professor in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at The University of Western Australia where he researches and publishes on digital media theory, youth suicide and cultural studies. His recent book is Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity (Ashgate 2012) and his work on GLBTIQ youth suicide and self-harm has appeared in a number of scholarly journals, including Reconstruction.

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