Game must face hard discussion about Cartwright action
IT went without examination but Phil Gould nailed it early.
"A lot of people," Gould said, "have formulated their emotions and their opinion on the way the story has been reported to date."
So he was at Panthers on Monday, turning a big story into an even bigger story.
Revelations that Panthers star Bryce Cartwright paid a woman $50,000 to have an abortion, after stating he would have nothing to do with the baby, suddenly had a dialogue.
This is a highly emotional matter for the game and, for that reason, it affects each of us differently. Each will respond according to our moral code. Universal agreement is almost impossible.
It leaves the game in a difficult position. What are we going to do about it?
The NRL's early statement that it was a "private matter" no longer holds up, even if it certainly was a personal matter.
If Cartwright's situation is private why wasn't Mitchell Pearce's incident last year, when he simulated a lewd act with a dog and tried to kiss a woman, considered a private matter?
It happened at a private residence and if nobody had secretly taped it then it would not have received the exposure it did.
Yet the NRL dealt severely with Pearce. They judged he broke the code of conduct and suspended him for eight games with a $125,000 fine.
Cartwright has broken nothing in the game's code of conduct but many witnesses to the text messages between Cartwright, Miss X and Penrith footy fixer Lew Zivanovic were left uncomfortable.
The difference between Pearce and Cartwright was subtle.
The NRL had a complaint from the woman in Pearce's case to act upon. In Cartwright's case, the Panthers said they had no knowledge.
"The first we knew about these allegations were on the weekend in the newspaper reports ..." Gould said.
The NRL has received no complaint from the young woman involved here but it might be just a technicality.
The woman tried to contact Cartwright and people close to him when she was four weeks pregnant but she was stonewalled and, in frustration and not knowing who else to call, she called The Daily Telegraph.
"I think it was [sports editor] Tim Morrissey who contacted me, I'm not quite sure, in October sometime," Gould said.
"It was virtually a heads-up call to say that there was young lady claiming she had fallen pregnant to Bryce Cartwright and she was wanting the media to know about that relationship."
Yet, Gould said on Monday, by the time he spoke to Cartwright and his helpers, "This process was well underway and almost finalised by then".
So the general manager of football did know before the weekend.
And it appeared she was still in the early stages of pregnancy and trying to navigate her future.
Gould appeared nervous to those who know him, understandably, and given he has not spoken to the woman might not have received reliable information about what stage it was truly at.
Regardless, there are enough inconsistencies to warrant further investigation by the NRL. If for nothing else than transparency.
In recent years the game has battled hard to break down the perception our game is a bloke's culture, women not welcome.
That makes this an uncomfortable conversation for our game. A young woman felt pressured to abort a baby while a young man felt overwhelmed by a predicament he put himself in to pay the woman $50,000 to go ahead with it.
But we are all in on this. Uncomfortable or not, we have to have the grown-up conversation.
Once a situation becomes public it is, by very definition, no longer private. The obligation from that moment on is to deal with it.
For years we have worked hard in the game to make it inclusive, to break down the old boy network and make women feel they are part of the game.
Abortion is a deeply personal issue for many women and any attempt to dismiss this, now that the topic has got serious, runs the risk of alienating them forever.
So such a conversation is part of the game's development. It is emotional, and so difficult, but necessary.