The demands of generating a constant stream of opinionated drivel are well known to all bloggers, columnists and panellists. These are magnified enormously when there's a large number of competitive protagonists, a small number of available slots and a hostile, barely-literate audience. This article examines some of the AFL's high-profile mavens and their recent public snafus, including Wayne Carey and Jason Akermanis.
We've covered Wayne Carey's off-field problems in some detail already. After retirement, he's sought his fame and fortune as a Fox Sports commentator and more recently, on Channel Nine's Footy Confidential show. On another footy discussion show (yes, there's a never-ending supply of them now), Carey displayed his trademark intelligence and sensitivity with some bizarre remarks relating to Kangaroo Nathan Thompson's recovery from depression:
“It would be nice for Thommo to stay away from the Darwin cup and concentrate on his recovery and maybe he’d get back and get a kick. He’s got depression and he’s up there punting on horses - what is he thinking?" Carey, a former captain of the Kangaroos, said on The Sunday Footy Show.
But while controversial, Carey's comments have been overshadowed by an aside he made as the show returned from an ad break. Although the audio is muddied by music, Carey can be heard remarking ``... end up necking himself.''
Host Tony Jones is clearly knocked off balance by the comment, but then moves decisively to end the discussion. (Herald-Sun, 13/8/2007)
(As an aside, I'd have like to have seen the consequences if the real Tony Jones from the ABC's Lateline was hosting. Carey would have been made to look the fool he is by being held to account through a vigorous forensic grilling by an actual journalist.)
Naturally, this remark earned Carey a huge amount of public criticism and opprobrium, including some deep psychoanalysis of his own mental problems in The Age's RealFooty. Talk back was abuzz and the letters pages to the newspapers were engulfed with derision. Sub-editors had a field-day with Duck/Goose puns. In addition, various mental health advocates (including Hawk's president and chairman of BeyondBlue Jeff Kennet) weighed in. Strangely, the AFL's most respected depression expert, West Coast CEO Trevor Nisbett, was silent. Perhaps a man of his extraordinary diagnostic talent doesn't bother with such obvious cases.
At The Speccy, we don't see what the fuss is about. Carey fills a Sam Newman-esque role of drawing mug crowds by being an insensitive, controversial and thick-skinned dickhead. Mission accomplished. Do you think the producers of that particular telly show are upset by this? Or the advertisers? Hardly.
This is a man who cheats on his pregnant wife with bleached-blonde bogan bait; who provides character references for killers and drug dealers; who sexually assaults women; who betrays his wife and best mate with sexual affairs. So, no surprises that he holds "controversial" (ie neolithic) attitudes to a range of issues. What is surprising is that so many Australians wish to see him on their televisions.
Another loud-mouthed idiot facing pressure to come up with the goods is Jason "Aker" Akermanis, playing this month for the Western Bulldogs. As the dying embers of his career flicker in the twilight, he is desperate to cement his position as an AFL insider with a knack for pulling audiences. I imagine he - and his minders - has hopes of a future as a "media personality" in the buffoonish tradition of Sam Newman. Earlier efforts at generating publicity included on-field handstands and some blogging that ultimately saw him dropped from his club, the Brisbane Lions, for criticising the coach.
His latest efforts to please his paymaster - Rupert Murdoch - saw him pen a column in which he lambasted an unnamed opposing player for "running like Superman" and performing seemingly-impossible feats of endurance. Akermanis attributed this to performance-enhancing drugs, most likely EPO:
It is best for me not to name names here, but something very similar happened to me a few years back.
I want to relate a story about an opponent who, overnight, developed an amazing ability to run a lot harder, faster and longer than he ever had before.
On this day, though, he out-ran me. He ran like Superman, having never shown signs of so doing before, and was still sprinting hard in the last term.
I was left thinking, "Hang on, something isn't smelling right".
What should I do? No idea. I have no proof, just an educated opinion based on very real experiences. (Herald-Sun, 1/8/2007)
As a result of this media stunt, Akermanis was widely condemned by all those who have a stake in the status quo: the AFL executive, the AFL Players' union, various coaches, former players and just about everyone else that doesn't want bad news.
Later, Channel 7 named the player in question as Michael Braun. His club, the drug-riddled West Coast Eagles, denied it and ASADA (the Government's Sports Anti-Doping Agency) launched an investigation. This inquiry reported back with negative findings and now Akermanis (and Channel 7) is being sued by the Eagles. He's also facing an inquiry from the AFL over bringing the game into disrepute.
While Akermanis has been totally self-serving in his goals, I must admit to a begrudging respect. (Not least because he knows Auslan and is learning Japanese.) It's clear the AFL is not interested in finding out about drug cheats: how else can you explain 500 tests a year for 650 players? How else can you explain letting players get away with not providing a sample if they don't feel like it? There's even doubts about whether or not they test for EPO as a matter of course.
But what is really troubling is that the body charged with the testing - ASADA - is hopelessly compromised. Remember, just a month or so before Akermanis wrote his article, Port Adelaide was correctly tipped off about upcoming ASADA testing. With very little in the way of media scrutiny, ASADA quietly conducted its own investigation into how the leak happened. They concluded it was a "mystery" (their words, not mine). The AFL said it was "comfortable" with this outcome (again, not my words).
ASADA issued a statement clearing itself of criticism and refused to discuss the manner or conduct of its self-investigation. As a result, we can have no confidence in this body and the fact that it's given Braun the "all-clear" sheds no light on whether or not he actually is a drug cheat. This is very sad, not least for Braun, who - if he is clean - deserves to have that established by a credible authority. It's also a problem for Akermanis' legal team in mounting a defence.
While all this was unfolding, another loud-mouth staring down the barrel of obscurity was using the drugs issue to desperately raise his profile: Peter Everitt. Occasional TV panelist, "Spida" has come out decrying how players now use addiction as a "free-pass" for bad behaviour and describing the drug-testing regime as a "shemozzle". Of course, he is completely right. But the fact that he gets attention for stating the obvious indicates something is seriously wrong.
Is it acceptable that the AFL's own incompetence and cynical manipulation of these matters provides a platform for advancing the post-career media prospects of these people? In an environment where "shut up and we can keep taking their money" is the dominant view and people are encouraged not to rock the boat, it's inevitable that self-aggrandising opinion-leaders are "forced to" (that is, get away with) resorting to public allegations like this.
In the cases of both Wayne Carey and Jason Akermanis, the desire to create controversy and get headlines has damaged the game. Both have put their interests first. In this, their actions are merely a continuation of career-long practices for which they have both been well rewarded.
It turns out that Jason Akermanis suspected up to five AFL players were cheating with performance-enhancing drugs. The players in question were tested by ASADA - after a suitable delay, naturally. (No-one wants any nasty surprises.) They're all clean. If only we could have reasonable confidence in ASADA's ability to conduct these kinds of drug detection operations.
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