Suspended Joe Marler with case of ‘foot in mouth’ after sledging

Suspended Joe Marler with case of 'foot in mouth' after sledging

The recently suspended Joe Marler is never far from a word or two. However, in the Harlequins match prior to the New Year public holiday, he was chastened with a case of literal ‘foot in mouth’ after an in-poor-taste sledging incident that was dealt with swiftly by the rugby authorities.

Cited by the ruling body, his punishment was handed out last Friday, and by today the prop forward may still feel bemused by both his on-field conduct, as well as what seemed as [maybe] acceptable in his early playing days, is now completely unacceptable.

The exact phrasing is not the main topic of discussion over the bank holiday weekend, but more so ‘is there a place in modern rugby for ribbing?’ as was so commonplace in the last century. And that term might be a good explanation for it. From the ‘last century’ and Marler might well have to cop it on the chin, be entirely apologetic, and rugby can learn from a distasteful incident.

Suspended Joe Marler with case of ‘foot in mouth’ after sledging

Facing the Bristol Bears last Tuesday, the suspended Joe Marler was caught on audio sledging the Bears’ Jake Heenan in the worst manner. Directed at the player’s mother, it caused a reaction with the opposition player lashing out naturally. The loose forward leaped towards Marler, supported by teammates rightfully. It also saw an immediate reaction from the Premiership disciplinary staff.


Joe Marler makes “piss poor” joke to Jake Heenan, he’s expected to be suffer a long ban tomorrow#gallagherprem #rugby #marler

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His team lost that match, 12-15, and then Marler was cited for his conduct. After Friday’s guilty verdict was handed out, his immediate suspension could possibly affect the player’s place in the England Six Nations squad. Later, in a media release on Monday by his club, it was announced Jordan Els would replace a suspended Joe Marler against Northampton Saints meaning that the player’s actions had impacted the Harlequins’ schedule and roster too.

All for what? A laugh? Marler is popular yes – in fact, voted as one of the most popular talkers of 2022 (maybe Joe read our feature article), yet when the subject cut too close to reality, having a laugh creates controversy rather than simple banter. Jake Heenan’s family is affected by the comments, and the health of his mother only added a sense of realization that drove the blindside flanker to see red!

The Bristol Bears’ captain Steven Luatua would later include Marler in a Tweet, to infer that an apology was required (and quite possibly was not offered in the changing sheds).

Gratefully, within two hours, Marler had answered the Tweet by saying, “Yep, you’re right. I’m sorry @HeenanJake – piss poor from me. Owe you a pint/coffee in the New Year” which is at least what he should have said directly to the player.

From there, the authorities acted with swift measure.

The statement from Premiership Rugby read that Joe Marler told the RFU’s disciplinary panel that referencing other players’ mothers was a “go-to” line following his comments made to Bristol’s Jake Heenan that led to his two-week ban. At the hearing, Marler accepted an RFU charge of conduct prejudicial to the game for twice calling Heenan’s mother, who is ill in hospital, a whore. Marler insisted he was not aware that Heenan’s mother was unwell and argued his comments did not constitute verbal abuse.

The full judgment reads: “In a candid response to a panel member’s question, [Marler] accepted that this was a normal ‘go-to line’ if he was trying to get a reaction when “sledging or ribbing” an opponent player. [Marler] said that he would not do so in the future, not least because “you never know what is going on in other people’s family”. In a statement provided by Heenan, the Bristol flanker says that it was the failure of the referee, Karl Dickson, to act that prompted him to “lose his head”.

Heenan said himself: “After being kicked on the ground by Joe Marler at the ruck before the scrum, I told him to cut it out at the next scrum. After a few words, he said ‘your mother is a whore.’ I left the first time, then he repeated it a second time to which I looked at [referee] Karl Dickson. Karl looked at me, looked away, and shook his head. When I realized that he wasn’t going to intervene I lost my head.”

Words that might have been misdirected, hit their mark in this match. And with the microphones there to record and repeat them, unlike a decade ago, it highlights what is acceptable, and what must be driven out of sport in general.

Jeremy Clarkson and Aussie cricket team with similar attitudes

Writing an article before Christmas, Jeremy Clarkson has similarly been identified as having an attitude that is out of sync with the times. He derided his opinion of Megan Markle, only to be vilified for misogynistic views from a time past. His tone was wrong, his target an all too easy one but it was misdirected, and it backfired on the television personality.

In team sports, you also find sledging active in cricket. The once ‘masters of the dark arts’ the Australian cricket team took it to the limit, and pushed it over the line. If banter is what you want, then threats of a bowler “breaking a batsman’s arm” were shunned. It was highlighted, and after a change in attitude, the side now watches their words with microphones at all points of the ground.

So even if some observers have pointed to woke, politically correct modern sensitivities on show, when was it ever acceptable? In the last century….. no, it should not have ever been a tolerated action.

Has it occurred in the women’s game? Probably, although you would never have expected anywhere near the depraved objectification of a family member being a sex worker being used by any female sportsperson.

So if the now suspended Joe Marler is the most public figure to be identified, some will ask if this is the point in which ‘calling somebody gay or a poofter’ is kept educated out of the game. For the better of rugby union, of cricket, and as a positive evolution of the game that boys and girls can hold as an ideal.


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