Diving into AFL history

Looking back from afar on the year 2013, it is fascinating to consider the antiquated and confusing morals held by some Australian sporting leagues. Take the Australian Football League’s season from that year as an example, with its bizarre incidents that would never occur in the modern, enlightened times in which we now live.

1

Circa 2013, the AFL acting football operations manager Gillon McLachlan argued that he didn’t know “what the definition of tanking is.”

Of course, the football-loving public had known what it was for years and didn’t believe him. They were even sure they’d seen tanking in the league at the end of the 2009 season when the Melbourne Demons appeared to deliberately lose games in order to receive a priority draft pick.

Despite rewarding teams who had lost more games with extra picks and better young players, and despite Melbourne coach Dean Bailey practically admitting that losing was in Melbourne’s best interests, an AFL investigation found the club not guilty of tanking. Instead, it found Bailey and Melbourne’s GM of football operations Chris Connolly guilty of “acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the competition,” suspending them both and fining the club $500,000.

Perhaps the AFL didn’t want to use the word ‘tanking’ because they couldn’t really explain why they regarded a team resting players and happy to lose games late in the season in order to finish last rather than second-last was unacceptable, while a finals-bound team who was happy to rest players and potentially lose late in the regular season was completely understandable.

2

Circa 2013, popular AFL TV program The Footy Show incorporated numerous sexist and racist jokes – including almost weekly barbs at host Garry Lyon’s bushy eyebrows and hairy body. This was despite the fact that the most widely criticised person associated with the competition during the year was a 13 year-old female Collingwood supporter who called Adam Goodes an “ape” during a game at the MCG.

Collingwood President and radio host Eddie Maguire – a former host of The Footy Show – later said that Goodes would be an excellent person to promote the stage show of King Kong in Melbourne. While he apologised to Goodes and had to go through the AFL’s Racial and Religious Vilification Policy process, he was not punished by the AFL in any other way. Perhaps this is because the AFL felt that fans of The Footy Show and many other football supporters of the time wouldn’t have understood why a greater punishment would have been appropriate.

3

Circa 2013, the Essendon Football Club were sanctioned for “conduct that is unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute.” The charges related to “ a culture of frequent, uninformed and unregulated use of the injection of supplements” at the club, with the Bombers being ruled ineligible to play in the 2013 Finals series, losing future draft picks, and receiving $2million in fines.

While the club and its coaches were sanctioned, not one player was charged with a doping-related offence, implying that no players had actually taken any banned or illegal substances. This is despite the fact that club captain and Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson openly stated that he had been administered with AOD-9604 which both the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority said was a banned substance.

Meanwhile, Essendon Senior Coach James Hird was suspended for 12 months by the AFL when he took a plea-bargain deal. Apparently, the deal stated that the AFL withdrew all charges against Hird, despite his ensuing suspension. Essendon were not permitted to pay Hird during his suspension, so instead gave him a year’s salary before his suspension began and signed him to a contract extension to start at the end of his suspension. Meanwhile, Essendon replaced Hird – an as-yet untested senior coach – with Mark Thompson – a two-time Premiership coach – for the 2014 season.

4

Circa 2013, the AFL’s CEO Andrew Demetriou laughed when he heard that St.Kilda player Clint Jones had set fire to a man during the Saints’ Mad Monday “celebrations.”

The league accepted the presence of Mad Monday, a tradition whereby footballers would drink too much at a team bonding session on the first Monday after their team had been eliminated from the competition. The man who Jones set fire to was a part of the team’s entertainment for the day. He was a dwarf, otherwise known as a person of short stature.
Demetriou later apologised for his reaction, saying that he laughed because he thought that he had been told a joke.

Perhaps this was because circa 2013, upon hearing that a man had been set on fire, people pictured a Vietnamese Buddhist monk burning to death in a massive flame, however upon hearing that a dwarf had been set on fire, people pictured a cartoon character like Sylvester or Elmer Fudd running around a room with smoke coming from his pants.

5

Circa 2013, the TAB was an ‘Official Partner’ of the AFL. Betting on all aspects of the sport was widely promoted on tv, radio, and in the Footy Record. Such advertising occurred during games in an attempt to encourage people to gamble away their savings.

The previous year, the AFL responded to widespread criticism and decided to cease providing up-to-date odds on the scoreboard at AFL games. It appears that the league agreed that providing the odds to those inside the stadium was inappropriate, but having odds promoted to the much broader tv and radio audience was perfectly reasonable and hopefully profitable.

Perhaps they just hadn’t yet considered the horrific social impact of gambling, even though the Australian Government had websites devoted to the issue and ex-players such as Brendan Fevola and Daryn Cresswell had shown just how dangerous it could be to an individual and a family.

***

These days, one can only look back at the AFL of 2013 and cringe. Thank goodness Australian society and its sporting leagues have matured since then.

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