With the AFL Grand Final finally out of the way, hordes of footy players wreaking havoc on the populace of other places with their end-of-year footy trips, and their pimps and wranglers busily scheming away in (rough) Trade Week, it's time for some quiet reflection.
You see, this blog was motivated by The AFL's annus horribilis in 2004. The investigative journalists at 4 Corners had kicked over the dried turd of professional sport and exposed the writhing worms of drugs, rape and violence that pervades the industry. How has 2005 stacked up?
It's clear that the overpaid and under-educated AFL stars continue to receive "special treatment" at the hands of the police. Even though AFL players get their own free priority taxi service, Sav Rocca got the benefit of a police chauffeur service to spirit him away from the birth of his second son. (Seen one, seen them all, I guess.) Is leaving your wife like that a sign of commitment, or warped values? Dunno - but Nick Stevens would understand, given that he ditched his brother's wedding (where he was meant to be bestman)!
In any case, the police were also clearly pussy-footing around with a very light touch approach to Geelong players in a nightclub brawl. Would anyone else get treated like this? No wonder top cop Simon Overland doubts the ability of his detectives to investigate footy players properly - even over serious allegations like rape, as we saw with the Heath Culpitt "missing evidence" scandal.
What's makes these cosy arrangements with the coppers extremely dangerous is the apparently equally cosy arrangements with the underworld. Whether it's abduction and torture by bikies (Carlton), or emergency legal advice during a gang shoot-out (West Coast) - AFL players are there, right in the thick of it. But what would 22 year-olds making half a million bucks a year want with gangstas and bikies anyway?
Drug-taking was a recurrent theme this year. Ditched player Laurence Angwin came clean about the extent of drug use within the ranks of the AFL. Naturally, officials wanted to bury this, going as far as excluding the AFL from the WADA anti-doping protocol - under pressure from the AFL players' union who wanted to Fight ... for their Right ... to P-a-a-a-r-t-a-y! (Yet they were strangely quiet about the proposal to test player DNA.) The resulting humiliating backdown by the AFL wasn't the only one for the year. After shafting songstress Sylvie Paladino in favour of Delta, the AFL backed down on that one too.
Apart from the Grand Final pre-show entertainment, the other major cultural event in footy land was the Brownlow Medal Count Extravaganza. While the tackiness and desperation were toned down a little on previous years, there was still plenty of shameless pole-climbing on display - not to mention cleavage and fake-tan! Meanwhile, that mainstay of Aussie Rules culture - the massive ego-fest over at The AFL Footy Show - continued to spew its nastiness and poisonous "humour" on the world. When will the suffering end? I guess when seeing Sam Newman drink a bottle of bourbon on stage or expose his willy or dress up in black face paint stops being amusing to AFL fans. Fat chance.
Despite the best efforts of the police, some footy players actually made it into the legal system. The bizarre gang bashing at Fed Square by young thugs Dane Swan, Kade Carey and Aaron Ramsay continues to wend its way through the courts. I believe it's at the County Court now, and look forward to hearing the outcome. I'm sure the family of the beaten guards and intimidated witnesses are too. In another incident, Richmond lost its TAC sponsorship after teenager Shulz hooned through the city at twice the speed limit while pissed as a fart. I guess he couldn't wait for his free priority taxi. And serial pest Karl Norman finally got his come-uppance for trashing his rental property. Karma kicks in eventually.
Despite this criminality, it must be said that the gang rapes appear to be down on last year. This could be due to less reporting of them, increased reluctance by police to investigate, or possibly less rapes going public due to the AFL's deeply offensive rape buy-back policy. (Under this scheme, AFL rapists are given financial penalties and the victim bought off with some cash. We saw how this works previously; perhaps the clubs have perfected it?) Or maybe - just maybe - player education and media scrutiny (like this) has actually resulted in fewer women being raped by AFL players? I think it would be rash to dismiss this possibility entirely.
So even though I've been insulted (someone even called me a journalist!) and threatened with violence I'll continue to publish and update the AFL Player Threat Index, to help people protect themselves against further rapes and bashings. I'll also continue to publish cautionary tales, like that of Gary Ablett, in the hope that people will learn from the past.
Here's hoping that 2006 is a safer season for the rest of us.
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