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Stamping the wrong message

Stamping the wrong message
by Lucy Polkinghorne

When Australia Post made the controversial decision to remove Brett Stewart’s face from the 2008 NRL Grand Final Collector’s stamps, it sent out a strong message to the public. Guilty.

But Stewart has not yet been found guilty. So why should he be punished by being left off the stamps?

Our judicial system is built on the basis that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Australia Post has assumed Stewart is guilty by leaving him off the stamps before he was even heard in court.

This is a reputable Australian company making this decision without thinking about the influence it might have on the public and even the jury and how it will impact Stewart personally.

The saga began on March 10th 2009 when Manly Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart was arrested and charged over the alleged sexual assault of a 17-year old girl. This allegedly happened after a club sponsorship function in which Stewart was drinking. Stewart pleads not guilty.

The NRL and Manly Club suspended Stewart for the first four weeks of the football season on the ground of drunken behaviour. The sexual assault charge was left up to the courts to determine.

Following this, on 14th April Australia Post released the Manly Sea Eagles collectors stamps of all the players minus Stewart’s photo. The explanation for the decision was made by Australia Post communications adviser Anna Inglis: ‘A decision was made to exclude the player due to the serious nature of the charges he is facing’.

This is an unfair decision when our law states that any person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Stewart should not be removed from the stamps on the basis of an as yet unproven charge.

Is this human right removed simply because he is a footballer?

Sexual assault is a very serious crime and is treated seriously in our society.

On the other hand, there is nothing worse than convicting an innocent person and publicly condemning them for a serious crime they did not commit.

The punishment should wait until the verdict is reached.

I’m interested in how this public condemnation will affect Stewart personally.

Grant Brecht, sports psychologist for the Sydney Swans, believes that Stewart should view it as a hurdle in his journey through life and take responsibility for the actions that led to this situation.

‘It is a test of his emotional maturity and resilience.’

‘He must accept putting himself in this situation, he needs to be emotionally mature in his way in reacting to this and take responsibility.’

‘If he is proved innocent the people (Australia Post) should be talking to him about maybe getting him back onto the stamps.’

Although he is an elite athlete what we must remember is he deserves the same rights as any other citizen.

Category: Sport


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Something worse than innocence delayed: guilt belayed

I am appalled by your contention that "there is nothing worse than convicting an innocent person and publicly condemning [him] for a serious crime [he] did not commit."

Yes, Lucy, there is something worse than convicting an innocent person in the court of public opinion for a crime of which he is later absolved: giving a guilty party a public commendation before a legal verdict is reached, on the basis of "innocent until proven guilty", only to find later that, indeed, he is guilty of the crime. And so, I laud Australia Post's decision.

Sports figures are role models, and so their decisions influence impressionable youth. Michael Vick, an American gridiron hero, and his dogfighting saga similarly shook the sporting world in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson famously chastised Vick at his sentencing hearing after he issued an apology to the judge, the court and his family, "I think you should have apologized also to the millions of young people who look up to you."

Then again, Vick pled guilty, and Stewart has maintained innocence – no, wait, Stewart hasn't claimed he is innocent of the crime; he merely "denied the allegations", as per the linked article above. Maybe he has learned a thing or two from American athletes and their protests of innocence as of late.

The "serious nature", termed plainly by Anna Inglis, of the charges Stewart is facing alone probably affected Australia Post's decision; had he been charged with engaging in some form of drunken debauchery, I doubt such a swift and reaching action would have been taken.

Australia Post can simply reissue Brett Stewart stamps at a later time if he is found not guilty as Grant Brecht suggested; and surely, in such an instance, rugby fans and stamp collectors alike would implicitly understand the circumstances surrounding the belated release and rejoice. But Australia Post cannot easily pull said stamps from circulation if he is proven guilty.

Regardless of the decision to employ Stewart's image on a stamp, Stewart has already been stamped as a potential sexual predator in the public eye because of the assault charges, true or false.

Role models?

I really wonder, Ashley, why anyone would consider sports people to be "role models" for anything else other than hand-eye co-ordination skills.

Running, jumping, diving, swimming are all exciting video, but not something to live the rest of your life by. I think people confuse enthusiasm at the game, with a talented player obviously a"hero" to a fan of their team, with some of the other somewhat more important life aspects.

Brett Stewart is clearly no PR guru. He has (hopefully) made a dopey mistake whilst under the influence, which is something of a typical role model sportsman act, it seems. Let's put the Queen back on stamps and stop all this mindless controversy! You won't find her drunk, horny and disorderly on the front page of the Telegraph.

Matty Johns is less easy to dismiss, however. He was 30 and one of the senior players on the tour of NZ, was media savvy and should have known better. He could have walked away at the very least. One has to wonder whether thinking he was in the lesser Island of a Rugby Union stronghold nation, he could get away with a bit without the media finding out. It just goes to show how competitive old Aunty is, when they can beat Today Tonight to the punch on a tawdry story!

The message sent to the public

Michelle, thank you for your comment.

However, I'm not suggesting Stewart should be upset his face is not on a stamp, but  instead the message that leaving him off the stamps sends to the public.

That message being that he is presumed guilty of a serious crime of which he has not yet been found guilty.

What's in a stereotype?

Lucy, I do believe that taking his face off the stamp sends the message to the Australian public that he is guilty. It is unfortunate there seems to be such a strong incidence of violence of rugby players in Australia. It seems that whenever the sports report comes on in the news there are new allegations of violence being made against a rugby player.

Perhaps it is this stereotype of the "violent" or "abusive" rugby player which Australia Post are choosing to follow and are automatically assuming that he is guilty because, in so many other instances, rugby players have been found guilty.

Whether it is ok that they have done this, I can't say, as I mentioned before of course they also have their own self interest in maintaining their 'respectable' public image and it may just be easier to follow the stereotype of the "deviant" rugby player, than go against it.

Public image is public image

As a public figure of any kind (in this case a footballer), you should expect that all your actions will be in the media spotlight. Of course you can't be persecuted in this society for being a footballer, or a boxer, or anyone else. However, you can be persecuted if you commit sexual assault on a minor while you're intoxicated.

I mean anyone in this society would, no matter who you were. Maybe Australia Post should have waited and taken on the innocent until proven guilty approach; however, this treatment is part of being a public figure and the fact is there are serious charges against his name and to promote his name alongside with Australia Post's own name,  they may feel is detrimental to their own public image which they thought wasn't worth the risk. All things considered though, is Brett Stewart's face appearing on a stamp so important to him, when he is currently being charged with sexual assault on a minor? I mean, would you be so worried about a measly stamp in this situation if you were about to be potentially convicted for sexual assault on a minor?

hang'm - but have a trial later, if you like!

But Michelle, he hadn't been convicted of anything when the stamp event, tabloid roastings etc were going on.

The "sexual assault on a minor" ( I think this charge is supposed to refer more in intent, to paedophile attacks on children) was only an allegation, untested in court!!

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