Talking RL: Joel has shocked me three times this week
Three times in four days, I've answered my phone and been genuinely shocked.
The first time was on Saturday evening.
I was in a hotel lobby bar, in Belfast, where my son’s rugby team were on tour.
My weekend news editor phoned to say a video of a drunken Wigan player abusing bar-staff had been posted on Facebook, and to let me know a story would be posted on our site.
I asked who the player was imagining, immediately, the response would be one of the younger, more naive, players.
I couldn’t believe it when he said, ‘Joel Tomkins’.
I watched the video a few minutes later and was, as most no doubt were, disgusted.
Several people asked me that night whether it was typical of him.
I told them it wasn’t the Joel Tomkins I have known for more than a decade.
He had no previous.
In all the dealings I have had with him, I’ve always found him to be decent and respectful – which was why I was stunned when I watched the video.
The second shock came on Monday.
Back at work, dealing with the fall-out from the ban he had been handed – and, yes, some banter from colleagues about ‘choosing your weekends to go away’ – I took a call from an unsaved number.
It was Joel Tomkins.
He said he wanted to make a public apology for his behaviour and asked would this newspaper be willing to run his statement.
We spoke for several minutes, and it was obvious how devastated he was.
There was not a shred of self-pity.
No hint that he was seeking any excuses.
Just a contrite man massively embarrassed and disappointed with himself.
“Why didn’t he publicly apologise five weeks ago?” some have asked.
But why would anyone publicly apologise for something which wasn’t already in the public eye?
The third shock came early on Tuesday evening, hours after the apology – and an admission that there was a second video, which hadn’t surfaced – had been published.
It was Joel again.
He said someone had sent them the second video.
And that’s when he caught me completely off-guard by saying his brother Sam was going to put it on Twitter (Joel isn’t on social media) even though there was no suggestion anyone else was going to publish it.
In hindsight, it was a smart move.
Because how could he begin to draw a line under the whole saga with the risk the footage may surface down the track?
I watched the second video, which was arguably worse than the first.
Joel swearing, snatching at a girl’s phone, calling a young bar-girl disgusting names... actions no-one would condone, not least him, I’m sure, as he watched it back.
He messed-up. Massively.
And he is rightly paying the price, with a £10,000 fine and a four-week ban while Wigan decide what the future holds.
Whether it is at the club or not, I hope he comes back from this.
Other players have come back from much worse. I could easily go through Super League and collect a motley crew of thugs, girlfriend-beaters and drug-takers.
Not long ago, Albert Kelly was caught on camera labelling a girl in McDonald’s a ‘whore’ and a ‘slut’. Weeks later, he was handed a new deal by Hull FC.
You may remember, at the time, Hull said nothing about Kelly’s video-nasty, other than an unattributed quote that it had been dealt with in-house.
I was fiercely critical of the way they handled it.
By that token, I applaud Wigan for taking such a strong, public, stance.
I’d argue the Warriors would have received less media attention had they kept silent, like Hull. But for a club which talks about ‘integrity’ and ‘honesty’ and ‘culture’, what message would that have sent to the fans, sponsors and – crucially – the other players?
And if this doesn’t hit home the message about what is acceptable and not, I don’t know what will.
Don’t tell me he has only been punished because he’s a player, because some other professions – teachers, doctors, police, politicians – would have been sanctioned, too. And don’t say it only made headlines because he’s in the public eye, because when rugby league clubs trade on representing a community, players should expect a high level of scrutiny.
That’s the reality. And, I’ve got to say, as a dad with a 17-year-old child who works behind a bar, I’m glad phones now have video cameras – if they don’t deter bad behaviour, they capture it. Like it has done here.
Joel has apologised unreservedly. I appreciated his candour. And I really hope he gets over this with the support of his club and team-mates.
He released the second video in an attempt to draw a line under the episode.
I hope, now, we can all do the same.
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