Drink-driving Collingwood rookie footballer Sharrod Wellingham blew a big number on the weekend - $500,000. That's how much his recklessness has cost the Collingwood Football Club in lost sponsorship from the TAC. While this raises questions about the club's culture, it also throws into sharp relief the bizarre practice of our State Government insurer giving free money to wealthy footy clubs.
The facts of the case are very straightforward: Last Saturday night in Lorne, on Victoria's Surf Coast, 19 year-old Wellingham blew 0.13% while driving. He has lost his licence for 12 months and his club fined him 10% of his salary.
Of wider import is that Collingwood has now lost its seven year sponsorship deal with the TAC (Transport Accident Commission), a State Government-owned insurance business. It is most well-known for running advertising campaigns to reduce traffic accidents and paying for rehabilitation for injured parties.
After an earlier incident involving Collingwood's Chad Morrison's drink-driving offence in April 2006, the TAC had Collingwood on notice: one more traffic-related incident and it would be finished. The TAC had good reason to worry as a year earlier they tore up their sponsorship deal with Richmond over Jay Shulz drink-driving and speeding. It was always a risky play, with Collingwood having a long history of unsound attitudes to driving. Speedster Cameron Cloke, for example. Or, more tragically, the feted Darren Millane, who killed himself in a alcohol-fuelled traffic accident.
Eddie Presents Yet Another Really, Really Sorry Footballer
Source: The Age, 10/1/2008
Naturally, the miscreant in question is full of remorse for his stupid and selfish act. And he's got club president and game-show host Eddie McGuire working the media on his behalf:
Fronting a media conference with Wellingham yesterday, McGuire said: "We have to make a stand and not make excuses.
"That we have transgressed means we've forfeited the right and the privilege of being associated with the Transport Accident Commission."
"There's no excuse for driving a car under the influence of alcohol, whether you're driving it 10 miles or 10 metres," McGuire said.
After apologising to his team mates and the club, Wellingham fronted the media yesterday to make a public apology.
"I've made a silly error in judgement and I just want to be able to move on and make this a turning point.
"I did the stupid act of getting in the car thinking 'I'm only moving it 150 metres, it's not going to make a difference, I'm fine, already made my way home after the night out'," Wellingham said. (The Age, 10/1/2008)
Notice how Eddie simultaneously stresses that there are "no excuses" and then manages to work in an excuse ("hey - he's only moving it a few metres to avoid a parking fine")? Kind of like the American politician who publicly refused to use "attack ads" - but then showed the ads to some journos. It really is a pleasure to watch McGuire operate. Here he is at it again:
McGuire said his club and the AFL were taking steps to ensure players acted responsibly – especially when it came to alcohol.
“Sharrod himself has given up drinking,” he said, before pointing out that he had “good people around him”. (AFL Bigpond, 10/1/2008)
Yep, some of those steps towards responsibility include ... buying a pub. (Read former Age diarist Jonathan Green's account of this odd move.) And some of the "good people" around Wellingham presumably include Lance "Buddy" Franklin of Hawthorn, who was in the car with him at the time. With the Sunday Age reporting in December that Buddy declared himself "off his chops" in a nightclub (they generously interpreted this as meaning he was going vegetarian), more time spent in Buddy's company should make Wellingham's no-alcohol pledge fairly easy ...
In any case, the impact of losing the $500K will be modest, given that the club is extremely wealthy even by AFL standards, reporting a profit in excess of $2M last year. Eddie will talk up the damage, but, in reality, it amounts to less than the salary of one top player.
Which brings up the question of why the TAC is sponsoring a group of people who regularly feature in the press for breaking our road rules: drink-driving (Shulz, Morrison, Ottens), fleeing booze-buses (Cousins), losing control of hoon-wagon (Gardiner, Teague). Remember, this is a group of people with their own free priority taxi service (with secret direct number). And, occasionally, police chauffeurs (with lights and sirens too, if you don't mind).
The TAC collects money compulsorily from Victorian motorists and then fritters away up to a million bucks a year in ensuring that AFL players are given the maximum exposure when they inevitably break the law. It's disturbing that despite two similar sponsorship agreements failing in the same way within a couple of years, the TAC plans to push ahead with a third attempt. Is it a case of third time lucky, or do the TAC staff just enjoy the corporate hospitality that comes with the deal?
Perhaps the most charitable spin that can be put on it is that, absent a plausible stick, the threat of taking away the million-dollar carrot motivates players (via their employer) to take the traffic laws seriously. While that works for one club at a time, the other fifteen have the certain knowledge that the million-dollar carrot will be shopped around every couple of years, so they keep their players in check too. If this is the case, then it's a sad indictment of footy culture that the Government has to bribe them to obey the law.
Showing that this Collingwood drink-driving incident is hardly a one-off, Port Adelaide has also demonstrated the fundamental inability of footballers to accept that road rules apply to them too:
A Port Power AFL footballer has been banned from driving by an Adelaide magistrate.
Forward Nathan Krakouer, 19, was caught driving unregistered and uninsured at Pennington in Adelaide's north-western suburbs on September 6 last year, and again four days later.
The teenager represented himself in court, telling the Magistrate he was unaware the registration had lapsed when he was first caught speeding.
Krakouer was fined $100 and ordered not to drive for the next two days. (ABC, 14/1/2008)
So, no rego, no insurance, speeding and then getting caught again a couple of days later? A $100 fine and a two-day ban? It seems that Krakouer's belief that road rules are for others is well-founded.
While Port Adelaide was never in contention for the TAC's bundle of our free cash (presumably they'd only sponsor a Victorian club), it highlights the stupidity of such funding arrangements.
It just doesn't stop. More selfish recklessness from footy players on the road, making it three in a week. Premiership player Steve Johnson has been picked up for the most gross speeding you could imagine: 128 km/h in a residential 50 km/h zone:
Police have impounded Johnson's car and he faces the loss of his licence for 12 months after he was clocked Wednesday night at 128km/h in a 50km/h zone.
As they did a year ago, Geelong's players will again play a major role in deciding a club penalty for the star forward. But unlike last summer, his career with the Cats is unlikely to be in jeopardy.
Teammate Shannon Byrnes was also in the car at the time of the incident, with the pair on the way to Eastern Gardens golf club in Geelong.
“We are extremely disappointed that Steve was found to have exceeded the speed limit in this manner and we are thankful that Steve, his passenger Shannon Byrnes or any other people were not injured,” Geelong chief executive Brian Cook said in a statement.
“We know the risks associated with speeding and speed is a major cause of road crashes in Victoria.
The players will meet within a week to discuss what penalty they want for Johnson this time.
“The club will consider the possibility of further sanctions over the next week which will include discussion with the player leadership group,” the statement read. (FoxSports, 17/1/2008)
Yes, this is the same Steve Johnson who was involved in a drunken incident in Wangaratta around 12 months ago, resulting in his arrest (which he tried to keep secret). Coming on top of earlier police attention for his drunkenness, the last major incident saw him voluntarily suspended by his club for five matches.
Steve Johnson, what a winner. 80 km/h over the speed limit.
Let's just remind ourselves of what the club said about this troubled character at the time:
“Steve has been given numerous chances and it is fair to say that he is now down to his last opportunity to prove that he wants to stay with the club. (Geelong FC Statement, 8/1/2007)
Given his performance in the Grand Final, does anyone doubt he'll be getting yet another "last opportunity"? (This will nearly tie him with Ben Cousins when it comes to most "last chances".)
We're watching you, Geelong. If you don't stick to your word on this, your club will be shown up as weak, desperate and dishonourable.
In a predictable move, Geelong has seen fit to let repeat offender Steve Johnson off without sanction. This man - prone to bouts of drunken irresponsibility warranting police intervention - was busted hurtling along at almost 80 km/h over the legal limit. He was earlier publicly warned by his club, Geelong, about being on a last chance (see above).
Unfortunately, strict defamation laws prevent me from saying what I would like to. Instead, I draw your attention to the official media statement above, and compare and contrast with this excuse by Geelong Chief Executive Brian Cook:
But Cook hinted the outcome could have been different had the mercurial forward been a less talented player.
"There does come a point in time when you run out of chances. And talented people get more chances than the not so talented," he said
A repentant Johnson described his decision to speed as 'a bit of a brain fade'.
"There was no reason why I should have been travelling at that speed. To be honest, I've got no excuse for it. It was a silly thing to do. I can't put a finger on it," he said.
"There's no excuse for travelling at that sort of speed." (Sportal, 22/1/2008)
This idea of talent "buying" extra chances wasn't stated in the media release last year. I, for one, could not countenance dealing with people who could cynically manipulate the public like this.
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