Spotlight on sports stars behaving badly
Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport
By Anna Krien Black Inc, 288pp, $29.99
IN Night Games, award-winning Melbourne writer Anna Krien calls to account sports jocks (and their culture) for conduct that might fall under the generic category of men behaving badly.
In this part courtroom drama, part academic study, part first-person narrative, Krien examines the behaviour of top-level footballers (in both the Australian Football League and National Rugby League), especially after the final siren has sounded.
With a headless female mannequin holding a football on its cover, Night Games is subtitled: Sex, Power and Sport.
The central thread of the book concerns a rape trial involving an Australian rules footballer in Melbourne, and woven throughout that account is a kind of academic study of sportsmen and their behaviour as a group. Just why do these young men so often carry on like blockheads when out together, drinking, after dark?
Krien spends three weeks in Melbourne County Court following the trial of ‘‘ Justin Dyer’’ (Krien changes the names of those involved), a 22-year-old charged with six counts of rape. Dyer is a Queenslander who has come to Victoria with a dream of making it in the big time, the AFL.
On the night after the 2010 grand final replay, when Collingwood beat St Kilda, he attends a party at a town house in South Melbourne at which some Collingwood players are present.
A young woman, ‘‘ Sarah Wesley’’, has gone to the party with a Collingwood reserves player. They end up having sex in a bedroom; midway through, other people come into the room, including two Collingwood senior players, and Wesley ends up having sex with some in the group.
The question of her consent forms one of the book’s broader themes: the great ‘‘ grey area’’, as Krien calls it. Did Wesley have group sex because she wanted to, felt compelled to, or was physically forced to?
On the way out of the town house, sometime after 5am, Dyer meets up with Wesley and offers her a taxi ride home. And that’s when the trouble starts that ends with Dyer in court. They have sex in an alleyway; he thinks it’s consensual, she thinks it isn’t and makes a complaint to police the following day.
The Collingwood players involved in the first part of the evening drift out of the story; charges are not laid against them. Dyer is left on his own to face the law.
The case is a complex one and forces Krien to examine her beliefs and preconceptions: is she predisposed to believe Wesley’s version of events because she’s a woman? Is she inclined to disbelieve Dyer because he’s a sportsman, a jock who’s been out drinking until late, and therefore not to be trusted?
If she dislikes the football culture so much, Krien wonders, why does she enjoy watching her partner’s AFL team, the Sydney Swans? Paradoxically, she leaps to Wesley’s defence when sharing a coffee one day with Dyer’s family, including his angry mother, yet finds herself justifying Dyer’s actions to her female friends.
The blurred lines leave Krien longing for more clearly defined answers: ‘‘ You’ve got the rapist or the liar . . . and by trying to seek out a shade of grey I’m protecting one of them. That is not going to sit well with feminists or footballers, I think, a knot of dread in the pit of my stomach. I prepare myself for the accusations — that I’m a traitor to women for even suggesting that Sarah is not telling the