What is it with footballers that they refuse to accept that road rules apply to them too? Is it because they are arrogant, contemptuous, spoilt brats? Maybe it's their hard-wired need for thrill-seeking and risk-taking behaviour? Or is it simply that magistrates keep doling out laughable sentences, making a mockery of social expectations? We examine these questions in light of the latest round of traffic offences from AFL footballers.
Working in reverse chronological order, we have Mark Williams (of Hawthorn) sentenced today in the Melbourne Magistrates Courts (AFL Division):
[The Court] heard that police found Williams was driving whilst unlicensed after a cyclist rode into the back of his car in Burnley on October 25 last year.
A prosecutor said police checks found Williams' licence had been suspended for 12 months four months earlier, after he was issued with a traffic infringement notice for speeding.
Senior Constable Jo Leechman said Williams later admitted driving while licence suspended but denied knowing that his licence had been suspended.
She said that on April 11 this year, Williams sped away from police in Newport at a speed estimated to at 94kmh in a 50kmh zone. (The Age, 19/7/2006)
His defence team ran the "pillar of the community" line. Williams donated $3000 (less than a week's wages) to some underprivileged kids somewhere. He also did some "voluntary work" (signing footballs for an hour I bet). Oh, did I mention that he did all this good works after the incident and on the advice of the spin-doctors at his club? Speaks volumes about his character ...
So he's a reckless law-breaking idiot who gets caught, has his licence cancelled, then gets into another incident while driving unlicensed (and, presumably, uninsured), denies wrong-doing, covers it up with some spin-induced "good works", feigns ignorance of his own prior sentence ... what a disgrace. Still, you'd think the judiciary would react sternly after their prior orders were just flagrantly ignored - hey, they might love their footy but they have to protect their own authority, right?
Wrong. Quoth the article:
Williams was put on a 12-month undertaking with conditions that he undergo a road trauma awareness, pay $1500 to that course and not reoffend.
His licence was suspended for the minimum mandatory period of six months. (ibid)
So, he got the minimum penalty - only because it was mandatory - and a fine amounting to what he'll earn before the first quarter siren on Saturday. Oh, and he was told to not reoffend. I've wondered aloud before at magistrates using "now you have to obey the law" as a penalty. It's truly bizarre. What else? Perhaps the magistrate should have ordered Williams to "keep on breathing", "maintain your kidneys on or about your person at all times" and "comply with Newton's Third Law of Motion". Telling people who have already broken the law - including a restrictions imposed on them for breaking an earlier law! - to stop breaking the law (or we'll tell you again) is an exercise in futility. Magistrates aren't stupid, so why do they keep on doing it? I'm genuinely baffled.
"Softly, softly" was also the order of the day for another (former) AFL "hero" sentenced for blatantly ignoring traffic laws that are only for the rest of us - including ignoring an earlier court order to stop driving:
Corey McKernan was today fined $1000 for driving while disqualified and for using his mobile phone at the same time.
McKernan, 32, had lost his licence for six months for exceeding the prescribed alcohol limit last November, Melbourne Magistrates Court was told today.
Then on May 2 this year, police observed him in his car using his mobile phone while stopped at traffic lights in South Melbourne. (ibid)
That's right. Laws are for other people, not footballers. Presumably, the magical aura of legal exemption extends even after the playing career is over. To reinforce this new-found piece of jurisprudence, the magistrate suspended his sentence for just 14 days. That's right, a whole fortnight. (Wanna bet he'll still drive anyway? Hell, he's done it before!)
These cases of driving anyway after being told to stop (due to earlier infringements) sound familiar ... that's right! Brodie Holland did the same thing back in January! He even tried the old "I didn't know I was unlicensed" trick. Since then, we've seen Michael Gardiner's spectacular drunken self-destruction at the wheel of a hotted-up bogan-wagon, Chad Morrison hung out to dry by Collingwood for drink-driving and Ben Cousins doing a runner when confronted with a booze-bus. Let's not forget Jay Shulz and his very expensive drink-driving incident last year.
It's not enough that footballers get free priority taxis (only mugs queue and pay for cabs) - Sav Rocca had the right idea in getting chauffeur-driven by his own personal police car (with lights and sirens too, if you don't mind).
Yep, anyway you look at it, the normal rules of the road don't apply to these superstars. They can drink and drive. They can speed. They can drive unlicensed. They can get ferried around at others' expense. All safe in the knowledge that an over-awed judiciary will never, ever impose a penalty of any consequence.
Hell, I'm surprised that Melbourne's Commonwealth Games "exclusive Games lanes" weren't kept in place for the sole use of football players. Now there's an idea that the AFL Players' Association would get behind!
Citations: The Age, 19/7/2006
Word Count: 925