The AFL Player Spectator Current AFL Threat Level

Millionaires with a Year Ten Education
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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

DNA Tests for Footy Players

The current hooplah involving AFL players is the prospect that clubs may begin testing the DNA of potential recruits, attempting to get insight into their future height, strength, speed and stamina.

This is all well and good for their on-field performance. But DNA testing allows them to go so much further. Would it be too much to ask that they also screen for off-field performance (and public safety) too? For example, some sociobiologists argue we can use DNA to screen for tendencies towards behaviours such as violence, rape and addiction.

What if these very same sets of genes made for good footballers? Would the clubs then be liable if they've inadvertently unleashed a group of ultra-violent thugs, bashing, raping and marauding their way through city bars and clubs while high on Synthemesc? Oh no, wait: they already have a proposal for dealing with that.

Still, it's all in the name of progress and innovation. As Port Adelaide's chief executive John James put it:

"Being an innovative club, which is one of the core identities of Port Adelaide, DNA testing was one of the possibilities that came before us," he said.

"We are continuously looking at new innovations, and this was one of them. As far as making the decision we are not at that point yet, but yes, we were considering the move." (The Age, 21/6/2005)

Over at Port, they're not afraid to enter the Brave New World of footy. This candid photo from last summer's training camp highlights one of their more experimental techniques:

(Unnamed recruit receiving motivating instruction from trainer)

We're not sure what exactly kind of looped-images and music the recruits are subjected to - any tips would be appreciated.

Citations: The Age, 21/6/2005

Word Count: 298

Tags: footy,



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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

AFL Player Education Standards

The tagline for this blog - Millionaires with a Year Ten Education - has attracted some comment. Well, perhaps I should explain. Subsequent posts will deal with the claim about their wealth, so I will discuss their education. You see, I blame (in part) the current model of AFL player development for their shocking off-field behaviour. Part of that stems from the widespread lack of education.

But first, what are the educational standards of AFL footballers? It's very difficult to get concrete statistics on this, and I would welcome any pointers to detailed studies. What's clear is that it is very difficult for a professional athlete to acquire a decent education owing to a number of barriers:

  • They start young. Typically, AFL players are recruited at around 18 or so. Some at 16 or 17. This means that they have limited opportunity to pursue studies beyond those offered at high school.

  • They're jocks. AFL players (as a group) value physical prowess and don't have much truck with fancy book learnin'. They don't see the value of study (or thinking in general) and do not gain status from peers for acquiring knowledge. They look up to older poorly-educated players and aspire to be like them.

  • They're rich. One motivation for the academically-weak to persist with studies is the prospect of earning a living. It's very hard to persuade a 20 year-old of the benefits of knowledge if they earn more than a professor.

  • Their brains are damaged. (OK, this is only a minority), but all those knocks to the head, binge drinking sessions, drug-taking, Brownlow medal counts, chatting up bimbos ... it takes a toll on the grey matter that many will find impossible to recover from.

So, given these factors, it's not hard to see that your average AFL player - even if he makes it all the way through his high school - will not be able to give his studies due regard. To play footy at the elite level requires total devotion from the age of 15 or so. This is why most have, in effect, a Year Ten education. They just stopped paying attention at this point.

Now, this does not apply to all AFL players. Some actually have acquired a reasonable education: James Hird holds a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from RMIT - with Honours. However, I'm sure that most people would recognise Mr. Hird as an exceptional AFL player in all respects. Carlton's Michael Wilson is another player pursuing an education. Additionally, there may be a number of players undertaking short courses in human movement, sports marketing or similar watered-down undertakings.

Still, it's nothing like the old days. While I'm in my 20s, I still remember the VFL days, when many players held down jobs as teachers (admittedly a lot of those taught Phys Ed, but still, they were having a go) and other professionals. Hell, some even worked as architects before going on to become Ministers of the Crown! But that's changed now with the increasing professionalisation of the code. What's the fallout for AFL players from that?

  • Unemployable. Lack of qualifications or experience outside of footy makes it very hard for AFL players to have a life once their playing career finishes.

  • One-dimensional. AFL players are now so focused, so specialised, so lacking in outside interests, that they are probably quite boring to talk with - unless you're a fellow player or star-struck fan.

  • Out of touch. Not having friends or colleagues outside of footy means they lose a grounding in the social reality that most of us enjoy. This makes it hard for them to re-adjust and connect with ordinary people.

  • Spoilt. Earning half a million or more dollars a year by the time you're 21 will set your expectations for life about what's normal. So anything less than a investment banker's salary will seem like an insult. It's very hard to earn above the average ($40K) without an education.

Most of these impacts occur after retirement from footy. With the cut off getting younger and younger (not too many still playing at 35) - and the threat of injuries increasing from the harder game - their post-career life could be fifty years. While an AFL player could do the traditional thing - buy a pub for the free beer and spend the next several decades boring the punters with stories about your seven years of glory - Liquor Licensing Commission requirements of being of "good character" increasingly make that option less feasible for a lot of players. If you can't fall back on a trade or profession, what can they do? They can't all go on to get jobs as media commentators.

Of course, the poor education of the AFL player has a wider impact on society. It's so much easier to use your fists to settle disputes if you've never learnt to how to discuss. So much easier to rape if you've never thought about other people and consider their feelings. So much easier to believe that you and your team and your game is the only thing that matters if you've never read a book. Ultimately, education and knowledge have a civilising effect on people, and it's a shame there's such a massive deficit here, since these guys need it more than most.

*** Update ***

More news on the abysmal education standards of AFL players, with some hard statistics:
As part of its player development program, the AFL Players' Association now offers footballers a range of services including educational guidance, grants, career counselling, work experience and skills programs.

Leigh Russell, the association's career and education manager, says the courses are targeted to whichever phase the player's career is in. "Most players drafted after year 12 have spent their final year of school concentrating on football and not their ENTER scores. There are a few who have scored in the 90s but the average ENTER is between 30 and 40. This is dangerous given the short time that some of them will be in the system," she says.

"We also have a handful completing year 12 while playing and the AFLPA provides funding for tutoring while they complete their studies."

In addition, the association identifies players with numeracy and literacy needs, through its educational support program, and, where necessary, funds individual tutoring. (The Age, 2/10/2006)

So even with all those resources - time, money, support - they still have terrible educational outcomes. Why? Because programs like this are just fiddling at the edges. These boys are paid big bucks to run around kicking a ball for a couple of years and the grey beards at their clubs really don't care about anything else. Fortunately, neither do these dim young men.

Citations: The Age, 2/10/2006

Word Count: 1149

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