TW: STI stigma, discussion of gendered/domestic violence
The following is a letter that a friend of mine (name removed) sent to Fox Sports.
I am writing about an issue with the team abbreviations for the NRL scores.
The abbreviation for St George-Illawarra Dragons is currently ‘STI’ which is also a common abbreviation for ‘Sexually Transmitted Infection’. I realise that this is obviously not an intended inference to draw, but quite frankly it makes me uncomfortable to see a team abbreviation sharing such connotations, especially given the NRL’s push to be more inclusive and aware of issues in which this could be relevant – for example, people who have their diagnoses of STIs made public are often shamed or shunned, and particularly women are considered to be promiscuous and somehow deserving of their diagnosis, which flies in the face of the message the NRL is trying to get across by having Women in League and White Ribbon events, and punishing players who have been accused or convicted of sexual violence.
I would like to suggest that the abbreviation be changed to ‘SGI’, which has no unintended sexual connotations that I am aware of or was able to find.
Thank you for your consideration.
My brain is like ‘wait, it was necessary for someone to tell them that?’ I mean, this is the thing that’s on the website and the television, on the scoreboard. Everyone sees it. Nobody thought it was a bad idea?
The NRL recently suspended someone for the rest of the season, superseding their club contract, for making a sex tape (among other things), and earlier this year did the same when a player made a video, while drunk, which I’m told involved a dog. This week, St George-Illawarra play Canterbury-Bankstown, in what is being marketed as White Ribbon Night In, to support the charity especially designed to raise awareness for domestic violence, which we all know is popularly gendered and sexualised. White Ribbon merchandise is being sold, and there are special pre-match activities for awareness and, of course, to solicit donations.
All of this will be commented on on live television, with CBY vs STI emblazoned across the bottom of the screen. It’s also on the website… in the header:
It isn’t as funny as it looks. Not when an entire part of the “reason” for that type of violence is that having an STI is stigmatised, to the point where they are considered dirty and useless, and some people feel that justifies the violence. Not when people are afraid to seek treatment, because of that stigma, or because they know that their diagnosis will be recorded and anonymous letters sent to their partners.
Yet, despite everything the NRL is doing, and says is working – they gave the broadcast contract to a network that thinks this is okay. Actively, and repeatedly, they think this is okay.
The only acceptable outcome is that they change it – obviously, not to STD. I don’t mind if they don’t say why. I don’t mind if they do. But you know, somewhere, in a pub, at someone’s house, someone’s already made a joke about it. An entire team, reduced to a punchline, perhaps in a drunken haze, or perhaps someone was entirely sober and thought it was funny anyway. The very thing that the game tonight is meant to stand against is, instead, being perpetuated – using sexual slurs to diminish someone and treat them as lesser, a punchline, a punching bag. Somewhere, a Dragons supporter has been told their team is a venereal disease and that applies to them, too. Somewhere, someone’s tearfully admitted to their partner that they have thrush and been beaten for it. Somewhere, that person was a Dragons supporter, and subconsciously, that choice of acronym validated their thoughts. Perhaps the person doing the beating was in turn harassed about their team, and is only passing on learned behaviour.
Perhaps, a tiny change, costing a few thousand dollars in the graphics budget, would not cause that default to be subtly, insidiously, reinforced. After all, Fox Sports have the NRL in its entirety, live and ad free (except when they say that and advertise themselves, and the logos on the ground, and the naming rights to the stadium, and the commentary mentions of sponsors and other programs, and the ads in the pre- and post-match, and…), and are getting the subscription money to match. Surely, you would think, if they wanted to foster a positive environment, align their values with the ones the NRL are fighting to espouse and instil in their audience, they would make that change.
Or perhaps, they wouldn’t have done it in the first place.