'Good' man Jack de Belin doesn't deserve sympathy - Bidwell

1:27 pm on 1 May 2019

Opinion - Jack de Belin is too good a bloke to be guilty of sexual assault.

St George Illawarra forward Jack de Belin

Dragons forward Jack de Belin is charged with aggravated sexual assault and is waiting for his trial to be heard in court. Photo: Photosport

If you're a rugby league enthusiast, you'd struggle to avoid statements or inferences such as that. Via television, podcasts and print, various media types have had sympathetic things to say about the St George Illawarra and New South Wales forward.

Sadly, those comments are at the root of so many of rugby league's problems and why long-time fans are turning away in disgust. This at a time when both rugby and rugby league need to show they're serious about showing women some overdue respect.

De Belin was charged with aggravated sexual assault by police following an alleged incident in Wollongong in December. He was then stood down by the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), which he challenged in federal court.

Judge Melissa Perry is due to release her verdict on that later this week, which could result in de Belin making an immediate return to the playing field. As for the sexual assault charge, it's said that could take as long as two years to be heard in court.

In the meantime there's been any number of 'poor Jack' remarks or stories. 'Poor Jack is having to foot these legal bills'. 'Poor Jack isn't even allowed to go and watch the Dragons play'. 'Poor Jack could lose the best years of his career to this mess'.

Through it all, say his media advocates, de Belin is turning up to court in a suit and showing great respect and restraint as he listens to the ARLC case for why he shouldn't be allowed to play. He's then off to training, where his work ethic and leadership are an example to all.

Put simply, these aren't the actions of a man who could commit the crime that's been alleged.

So let's give de Belin the presumption of innocence. Let's assume the 19-year-old woman that he and a team-mate went home with, fully consented to the intercourse that followed. After all, that is de Belin's version of events.

In all the recent tributes to de Belin's good character, there's no thought to the victim of the alleged assault. We're told de Belin is finding this whole ordeal very hard, but there's no mention of the 19-year-old's suffering.

And nor, almost as importantly, that of de Belin's pregnant partner. The woman waiting for him at home while this incident occurred.

People can talk de Belin up all they like but, consensual or otherwise, these are not the actions of a good bloke and this is partly why rugby league has found itself in such a mess over recent months.

Genuinely good blokes don't have sex in groups, they don't distribute film of these acts and they sure as eggs don't sleep with teenagers while their pregnant partner of five years waits for them to come home.

The ARLC's response to these situations has been the no-fault stand-down policy that de Belin is fighting, while here in New Zealand we wait to see how things play out with Crusaders wing Sevu Reece.

Reece pleaded guilty to domestic assault last year but, with every Super Rugby outing, looks increasingly capable of becoming an All Black. That's assuming New Zealand Rugby feel someone of that calibre represents the values they like to espouse.

Reece's partner suffered facial injuries and bruising to her body during the assault, outside a Hamilton night-spot, which only ended when a doorman intervened.

You assume there are news organisations around New Zealand who already have negative stories filed and ready to go, in the event Reece is picked in the All Blacks. If not that, then at least prominent columnists earmarked to give NZR both barrels.

Sevu Reece will make his debut for the Crusaders against the Chiefs.

Crusaders wing Sevu Reece. Photo: Photosport

There will be some who feel these kinds of points are being unnecessarily laboured and that someone such as de Belin is indeed a good bloke who was just having a bit of fun. Others will say Reece has been through the court process and shouldn't have his career blighted by one regrettable incident.

And the thing those people would likely have in common is that they're men.

But what of the women who watch on in silence?

Imagine being the woman who laid the complaint against de Belin. How would you feel seeing the coverage he's received?

Would you go as far as to regret going to the police in the first place? When you allege something against a prominent man it certainly feels as if you're up against more than just the legal system.

This isn't the first column of this nature and, sadly, it won't be the last.

Not while men who act like grubs are continually talked up as decent blokes.

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