The Dockers' Jeff Farmer is found guilty by the courts for yet another booze-fuelled rampage. His frequent trips to court are so blatant that he's attracting criticism from fellow footballers for sullying their reputations! Sadly, his employer remains locked in excuse-mode with carefully managed messages setting the stage for his return.
Jeff Farmer was ejected from Perth's Burswood Casino last Wednesday (18th of July). There are no allegations he was involved in anything unpleasant inside, but he was visibly drunk when given the boot. (Perhaps the casino - aware of Farmer's form when on the turps - decided an ounce of prevention was better than a discreet cash settlement.) Enraged by this, Farmer inexplicably smashed the left wing mirror of a car in the car park.
He was duly charged and pleaded guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court, where he was fined $750 plus another $58 in court costs. The piddling fine is typical of those reserved for "footballer justice", representing around 15 minutes of his playing time. The unusually low court costs may be due to the special prices negotiated by AFL clubs at the start of each year, where they buy court time in bulk to save money.
In addition, Farmer has his own "Frequent Flyer" loyalty program with the Perth Magistrates Court and his next appearance will be free, following various prior matters, including a conviction just two months ago for bashing up a bouncer at a Perth nightclub.
Despite previous convictions for alcohol-related violence, the magistrate Michael Wheeler was moved by these mitigating circumstances:
- Farmer's "acceptance that he had an alcohol problem".
- Farmer being "upset at the news that Chris Connolly had resigned as coach of the Dockers".
- Farmer being "disappointed at being ruled unfit to play against Adelaide last weekend."
- Farmer getting "glowing reference from now-sacked Dockers coach Chris Connolly".
- Farmer "had suffered financially from of his 'spontaneous act of stupidity', because two of the player’s sponsors had dropped him".
- Farmer being "'humiliated' by media coverage of the indiscretion". (The West Australian, 25/7/2007)
As a result of judicial sympathy for these torments, Farmer "escaped being placed on a community-based order". I would point out that Farmer has been harried in the media so often for his drunken crimes that it beggars belief that he is still capable of feeling humiliation.
In a desperate bid to maintain his position with the club - he's 30 and, as Magistrate Wheelan warned, entirely lacking in any skills or qualifications - Farmer played the "rehab" card. Pioneered by others but perfected recently by Ben Cousins, this is now an all-purpose method for ensuring players can keep on doing what they want - on and off the field. As Peter Everitt (from the Sydney Swans) explains the racket:
"This is where players now probably hold a trump card as in 'I'll come out now and say I've got an alcohol problem, a drug problem, a sexual problem', whatever it is so their contracts don't get ripped up," Everitt said on Fox Sports News. "We've seen it a couple of times. I don't know if we'll see it at all clubs."
Everitt said clubs were now obliged to look after players who admitted addictions and not punish them and this was a stand backed by the AFL.
"The 'Wiz' (Farmer), you would definitely think, would be close to his last chance, but now he's got a whole new lease of life," Everitt said.
"He could probably play even this weekend, if he's up from his (groin) injury, by coming out and admitting something."
"It's a sad time for the individual, there's no doubt about that, and there's a hard road ahead. We've seen that with Ben," Everitt said. "But at the same time, is the AFL in a predicament? Can they ever sack someone?" Asked if players now had a 'get out of jail free' card, Everitt replied: "No doubt."
"This is the sad thing now. We are not afraid that we're going to get sacked and we won't get sacked because we'll sit there and blame it on (the addiction)," he said. "I'm not a hundred per cent sure on the issues surrounding depression, alcoholism and all the drugs.
"But if you're smart and put your hand up and rely on certain things you won't be thrown out on to the scrap heap in flames.
"There is a problem there (with Cousins and Farmer). I'm not doubting that.
"But what I'm saying is that you can do it (misbehave) until the club says 'I'm ripping up your contract' and the player can say 'I've got a problem'. (FoxSports, 25/7/2007)
If "Spida" Everitt can see through the scam - and is willing to point it out in public - then you know it is both obvious and widespread. This is just another example of clubs putting their immediate short-term interests ahead of the longer-term interests of the game and their obligations to the rest of our community.
To get a sense of the scale of hypocrisy and selfishness involved, consider these carefully spun words from Farmer's employer, Docker's CEO Cameron Schwab:
"The first point is everyone recognises and understands what an important player and an important person he is for our club," Schwab told Channel Nine.
"But for Jeff to actually realise the next stage of his career he has to come to terms with what he is doing from a behavioural point of view.
"He is letting down the club, letting down himself, he is letting down his teammates.
"We need to get some very strong assurances from Jeff that this will be the last time we go down this track.
"But I think there is a possibility he will continue his career with the club, without wanting to pre-empt where we are at."
"You just don't like to deprive people and supporters of their best players.
"Jeff has got a court case on Wednesday, we will wait for that outcome, and assess things after that.
"But we certainly went the other way with Jeff last time, suspending him for six weeks, and that appeared to not help him. So we may look at a different way to approach that." (The Age, 24/7/2007)
Schwab's starting point for analysing this is that Farmer is a good player for the club and his ending point is not wanting to hurt the club. He explains that suspending him for drunken criminal violence didn't work last time, so they won't try it again. His strategy seems to be to put his energy into managing the negative publicity, rather than improving the standards of his players or ensuring discipline.
This might help them win on the weekend, but what future is there for footy? How long before we see a team take to the field composed entirely of convicted child rapists and terrorists, cheered on by morally-bankrupt fans? When the last remains of decency and honour are sacrificed at the altar of winning, will anyone even care?
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