Sexting should not be the norm in professional sport

Sexting is as ever-present as the mobile device in our hands.

AFL 2017 premiers Richmond Football Club are now experiencing the full impact of Nathan Broad photographing and distributing a shot of a topless woman with a premiership medal around her neck. It’s carnage, as reputations crumble by the day.

As Broad took to media this week alongside Richmond president Peggy O’Neal to apologise for his actions, we rush to judge and identify who is accountable for sexting, against a backdrop of elite sport, respect for women, law and societal values.

It takes three clicks on a mobile device to share a picture.

We are failing to understand the potential for a picture to go viral, the speed it reaches an audience, the personal and professional pain it is inflicting in full view of the public. What we individually do, record and share is now transparent for the world to see and judge. This includes sexting, which is the ‘distribution of intimate images of other people’.

Boy, girl, man or woman; no one deserves any part of their body they consider private to be made public without unequivocal consent. The harm to people is severe and compelling. Loss of employment, public disgrace and mental health are all in play when there is a breach of this right to privacy.

South Australia and Victoria both enshrine this right in law, with New South Wales to follow suit with the Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Act 2017 recently passing both Houses of Parliament, containing four new offences: ‘Recording…’ [or] ‘Threatening to record an intimate image without consent’, ‘Distributing…’ [or] ‘Threatening to distribute an intimate image without consent’.

For those who act outside these laws, they must face the consequences of their actions. This safeguards the community from harm sends a clear message and does not normalise the behaviour.

So how do we counter the negative online behaviour of professional athletes?

Professional athletes are employees. We need them to acknowledge, reflect on and meet the high standards a community expects of their behaviour, both online and face-to-face. Their online actions should have moral direction and link with their organisation’s values and code of conduct. Many conduct themselves superbly online while others fail to recognise the impact their actions have on themselves and others.

Is a three-game suspension enough punishment for Broad’s actions?

No. A strike to the hip pocket and a three-game suspension is not enough. This was an opportunity for the AFL and Richmond Football Club to underscore their position with action. Action that sends a clear message that they truly support women in their sport, that they must be treated with respect and sexting has no place in the AFL or our community. In the eyes of women, sexting now has the look of an on-field gradable careless conduct charge. The impact is far greater on everyone.

Our aspiring teens hold our professional athletes in high regard and are interacting with them via social media, no longer on passive footy cards and posters. A professional athlete’s use of social media should have a purpose, as well as model the values of their organisation and never reinforce the harmful use of social media, such as sexting.

Sports organisations must be vigilant in minimising inappropriate online behaviour. Social media law, policies, procedures and rules are not enough for the individual. Intensively teaching a professional athlete about the impact of social media on their professional and personal lives in the same way as performance, nutrition and culture currently are is now essential. It will help them unpack the pros, cons and expectations of its use.

When a professional athlete’s actions are inappropriate, sanctions must apply; the damage is too great.

For Richmond Football Club and the AFL, this means reviewing the use and sanctions of social media, monitoring and observing player behaviour online, directives for personal and professional use, intensive education programs for offenders and victim support services in addition to player suspensions.

When our professional athletes inappropriately use social media, it is a stark reminder for us all how we must be vigilant of the risks and implications of our actions. The Richmond Football Club and Nathan Broad scandal is a sharp reminder to us all. While we will never eliminate sexting behaviour in individuals, sports organisations and governing bodies must display an ongoing and transparent commitment to online education, minimising its impact on victims, sanctioning perpetrators and modelling best practise in our community.

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