With the AFL 2007 season about to kick off, it's time to wrap up 2006. By our reckoning, there was nearly one disturbing footballer incident a week in a year characterised by drugs, booze and assaults. Still, that's probably better than the awful rape frenzy of 2003/2004.
The notable absence of public rape scandals didn't mean that all was peachy for our footballers in the romance department. Instead, we saw some spectacular break-ups and court appearances over soured love. First there was the alleged knife attack by Ashley Sampi. Then there was Alan Didak publicly flaunting his anger management issues with his then-girlfriend, glamazon model Cassie Lane. Not to mention the ugly public nuptials of Colin Sylvia and Elise Whichello, which ended up in court with intervention orders and allegations of death threats against a concerned passerby. Not to be outdone, yesterday's hero Wayne Carey was accused of domestic violence against his model girlfriend Kate Neilson by The Herald-Sun. And Essendon's Andrew Lovett tried to re-capture the lost passion ... by (allegedly) taking hostage soon-to-be-ex Kimberlie Watson. Again, more court appearances and intervention orders followed. While time and space doesn't allow us to comment on all footballer infidelity, Wayne Carey's cheating on his pregnant wife - again - does deserve special mention. So who'd be a footballers wife? (Or girlfriend?) Especially with hot teenaged models (*cough* Lara Bingle *cough*) coming onto their men on telly. Certainly Alex Fevola must be regretting getting into bed with philanderer Brendan Fevola (both literally and in terms of their restaurant joint venture).
Speaking of joints, the big news of the year was the ongoing footy drug scandal. In a nutshell, the AFL players' union forced a deal on the AFL whereby players can only be named for taking drugs after they're caught the third time. The names of three players - who were caught twice - were leaked to parts of the media and published. (A larger group has been caught once but their identities remained under wraps.) An injunction stopping the public discussing this issue was taken out. Then a court case ensued, with newspapers on one side and the footy establishment on the other. Despite arguments about free speech, public interest and the fact the names were already published, the courts found in favour of the footballers. A permanent injunction is now in force and anyone who publishes the names of the players will be drawn and quartered. The contrast with other sports (and the AFL's stance on player gambling) could not be any more exquisitely hypocritical.
Still, there's no doubt that things have tightened up a bit on the drug-taking front. Of course, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in and - as predicted - the problems with booze have escalated as footballers try to manage their withdrawal from the harder drugs. 2006 saw a spate of alcohol-fuelled bashings and violence: death threats at 11am from Simon Goodwin and friends; Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson in a late-night car park assault; sexual harassment and pub brawling in St. Kilda from Fraser Gehrig, Michael Voss, Simon Black and the lesser-known Steve Lawrence and Craig McCrae; international disgrace from Brendan Fevola over attacking Irish pub staff; more fighting in pubs with Sam Mitchell, then Jeff Farmer and Steven Dodd, then Andrew Krakouer hospitalised a teenager before attacking a taxi driver; Geelong's Steve Johnson was arrested for assault in Wangaratta. Heath Scotland - not shy about hitting women - allegedly punched another woman, this time in Ballarat. The other allegation of footballer-on-woman assault (yes, Brodie Holland) is slowly wending its way through the courts. It's been set back so often I wouldn't hold your breath. Sheesh, even revered Michael Long was up on pub-related assault charges! No wonder the ugly brutalism of AFL culture is seeping out and infecting the wider Australian society, as shown by last year's anti-Semitic attacks by amateur footballers.
Drunkenness doesn't have to manifest itself in direct violence - plenty of footballers have done their bit to threaten our well-being just by getting behind the wheels of their bogan wagons. Players like Michael Gardiner, Chad Morrison and Brad Ottens. Ignoring road rules (hey, they're for other people to obey, not footy stars) comes naturally to these bloody idiots. Just ask Ben Cousins, Mark Williams, Corey McKernan or Brodie Holland.
Of course, not all footballers need to be drunk to throw their weight around. Giant two-metre tall Dean Brogan shocked the nation when he punched out a teenager at Adelaide Airport while apparently stone-cold sober. Footy players also took to using their union to intimidate and threaten people with lawyers. Individual players, like Chris Tarrant, will get their managers and PR flaks to do the threatening for them. Hell, even the AFL executive isn't above dishing out a spray to media commentators, fans of other football codes or just about anything they don't like.
It's not surprising that the AFL executive, union and sponsors have kept quiet about our legal system. The way our courts are sentencing AFL players at the moment they've got nothing to complain about. Our courts were clogged with footballers last year, with the AFL Division of the Melbourne Magistrates Court barely able to keep up. In addition to the dozens mentioned above, we had Campbell Brown let off without serious penalty, tax avoidance charges for Dipper and Matthew Campbell and fraud and dishonesty charges for David Dench and Peter Grahame Hall. But most serious was the staggering kid-gloves treatment for Kade Carey, Dane Swan and Aaron Ramsay for a series of vicious assaults at Federation Square that left several hospitalised.
Despite dozens of appearances before the courts, it was all delayed justice, suspended sentences, paltry fines and minor inconvenience. Hell, Collingwood had four current and former players in court in just one month last year! The only sensible reaction to this broad swathe of lawlessness was to start up betting on which club would next see a player in court. Despite getting zero support from our politicians for the idea and no commercial backing, we persevered and were able to get a play-money version up and running. Congratulations to Mazda for a great win.
Just reading over this summary of offensive lawlessness and disgrace, we wonder how anyone associated with the AFL (or Aussie Rules in general) can defend this pack of wankers. What are we talking about here? A few hundred young men with all the fame and money in the world and they lounge about playing X-Box, gamble away their future and engage in unlawful and immoral behaviour at a rate that should sicken the rest of us. But it doesn't. Australia has collectively placed its head up its arse when it comes to a clear-eyed assessment of these dickheads who, for many, can do no wrong. The disturbing Footy Chicks documentary highlighted just how far the culture of hero worship has set in.
What can we do? Well, for starters you can arm yourself with the latest in protection at the Speccy Shop (we offer a range of equipment to protect against footballer threat). You can try to be aware of the presence of footballers when you're out on the town. But, mostly, you can try to change attitudes. The next time you hear someone excusing the latest footy scandal or criminality, challenge them on it. Why do we tolerate behaviour in these idiots - just because they have natural talent? No, we get the footballers we deserve and it's up to us to drive the standards higher.
Word Count: 1364