It seems we spoke too soon in earlier praising the West Coast Eagles for their handling of uncontrollable spoilt brat Ben Cousins' Marathon Man flight from justice. Their response to this week's "yet another footballer assaulting his girlfriend" case is, sadly, highly racist.
Hot on the heals of some frank remarks and positive actions by senior officials with the Weagles over the Ben Cousins booze bus incident, it seems we were too quick to recognise and reward. The response to the Ashley Sampi knife-threat incident shows a disappointing return to form for an AFL club that was meant to be showing others the way. But first, the breaking scandal itself. Here's how it was reported earlier in the week:
West Coast Eagles forward Ashley Sampi is wanted for questioning over allegedly threatening his girlfriend with a knife.
Two women told West Australian detectives on Tuesday Sampi had threatened one of them with a knife on Monday night, the Seven Network reported.
The West Australian AFL club confirmed it was aware police wished to interview Sampi regarding a domestic incident with his girlfriend.
But the West Coast Eagles would not give further details of the incident. (Seven News, 28/02/06)
Fair enough - a straight up account of another bloody footballer throwing his weight around, threatening people and generally being a violent thug. Admittedly, this case involves a potentially life-threatening weapon - a knife. Just a few weeks ago we covered the Melbourne Magistrates Court (AFL Division) dealings with Demon's golden boy Colin Sylvia allegedly kicking his girlfriend. While it may be too harsh saying that AFL player domestic violence happens all the time, it's certainly a regular enough occurrence that all the clubs' PR flaks would have a well-thumbed manila folder with "In Case of Player Attacking Wife/Girlfriend" written on it. West Coast's spin doctors would have at least as much experience with handling this sort of thing as any other club. Instead, what we got was this piece of rubbish:
"It is a sensitive personal indigenous situation which the club has been assisting, and will continue to assist, through counselling," the club said in a statement.
"The club will make no further statement regarding the matter." (Seven News, 28/02/06)
Did you spot it? That's right, the totally racist and pandering inclusion of the word "indigenous". Racism is still alive within the AFL, despite it's much-lauded campaigns to eradicate this from the game. No doubt a brief statement like this was pored over by a number of club advisers, experts and officials. Therefore, this word was not an off-hand or casual remark; it's a calculated and contrived piece of spin-doctoring for which I hope the wider community condemns the club.
Let's analyse the calculation the club made. First of all, if they'd released the statement without the word "indigenous", most readers would have thought "Oh, another bloody dickhead footballer has stuffed up. Look at that - the violent angry knob in question is from West Coast. Again! What's up with that club? Do they attract the bad ones or do they go bad under toxic management?" This is clearly a reaction the club would like to avoid. In order to deflect such sentiments, they slyly paint it as not a West Coast Eagles problem, but an indigenous situation. Presumably, the intent is to induce a reaction of "bloody Abos, fighting with knives again" instead. (Let's face it, the club's wily supposition that your average AFL supporter is not going to get passed their inherent racism is well-founded.) Why else would they mention that the knife-wielding offender is indigenous? This disgraceful, sickening and disgusting behaviour is symptomatic of a desperate leadership under siege. I can only hope that they are called to account for their decision and community leaders call them on it.
That said, we should not lose sight of the behaviour of one Ashley Sampi in all this. Here's a large, well-paid, famous young man who feels the need to threaten women with a knife. He's pleaded guilty to one count of this today in Perth's Magistrate Court. (Unlike Melbourne they don't have an AFL Division, so he's appearing in a regular court.)
West Coast Eagles forward Ashley Sampi has pleaded guilty to assault and weapons charges after threatening his girlfriend's sister with a knife.
The 22-year-old AFL footballer was charged with common assault and carrying a weapon with intent to cause fear after a domestic argument on Monday involving his girlfriend and her sister.
Police alleged that around 8pm (WST) on Monday, Sampi verbally threatened his girlfriend's 22-year-old sister and pointed a knife at her.
Sampi, supported by an entourage which included his girlfriend, appeared in Perth Magistrates Court for a hearing before magistrate Doug Jones.
But Mr Jones said he could not hear the matter after Sampi's lawyer Peter Momber said the footballer was pleading guilty to the charges.
The matter was moved into a neighbouring court where Mr Momber told Magistrate Barbara Lane his client pleaded guilty.(The Age, 3/3/2006)
Note that, just like the Colin Sylvia case, the girlfriend is sticking by her man. Given the original reports involved statements by two women, but only one is standing up in court, it's fair to say this has probably caused problems between the sisters. Violence between a couple in a relationship is complex and I'm sure further remarks here won't help.
So, to re-iterate, this is not an "indigenous situation" - this is a "stupid thuggish Aussie Rules professional footballer situation". Any attempts to deflect it from this - even to protect commercial interests like sponsorship deals - is a racist act and must be seen as such. Shame on you, West Coast, shame!
Ashley Sampi's AFL career seems over now that he's declined to attempt a fitness test. This is the second West Coast Eagles player this month to be delisted for refusing to attempt a test that could reveal an ongoing problem with what he puts in his body. Fortunately for Sampi, we're only talking about pies, not crystal meth. Now Sampi will try secure a berth in another club. Perhaps Ricky Nixon can offer a two-for-one deal?
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