When the AFL introduced ‘trial by video’ nearly thirty years ago, it was celebrated as ‘catching’ culprits violating the game’s rules. Designed to moderate malevolent afflictions and mental malfunctions on the field, it clearly failed to inhibit aggression transgression, sanctioned moreover by an MRP that punished perpetrators with fines no more than piggy bank profits and an array of admonitions surrendered as superfluous the next week.
As an incorrigible football addict for more than fifty years, I hoped players caught on camera would be more suitably chastised, violence on the field no longer an issue I needed to confront. In the 60s, brutality and body bashing seemed innate to the code but in over three decades, violations of violence have not been banished from the game despite proof in pictures. As recent happenings testify, bellicose blows, aka a gut or jumper punch, are still extant but it’s not just physical punches that contravene the code’s integrity. Sledging nasty insults is but another manifestation of intentional violence, albeit psychological, the ensuing emotional trauma perhaps more damaging than a black eye, though the AFL took no action to prohibit that practice.
Some football aficionados claim “the crowds love…(the punch) and anyone who says otherwise is a wuss” maybe misguided as this newspaper’s sports journalist, Greg Baum implied in a recent column. Yet, in the Round 21, August 23-25 1996 Football Record, focusing on women and why they love football, a Crows fan, Margaret McCann, asserted “I think the fights on the field add to the atmosphere. The players get frustrated and you can’t blame them for giving vent to their feelings. I think the new melee rule is a bit rough on them.” Eagles fan, Daina Reid, when discussing punch ups, admitted “love ‘em. It’s that boy thing; we girls just don’t get up to that sort of behaviour.” Unaligned supporter, Michelle Wilson, then 28, agreed: “It’s a shocking thing to admit, but I quite like seeing the fights. I think it’s sexy. It’s passionate and rugged but you know it’ll be stopped before it gets too nasty.’ Really?
Baum also suggested it was opportune that AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan changed the rules. Not to be, though league football operations manager, Simon Lethlean, voiced adamantly the next day that the MRP had enough power to ensure jumper and gut punches were eradicated; a creditable edict, though I’m not holding my breath.
Preserving my 21-year-old Football Record for posterity, undoubtedly there will be some fans lamenting the loss of the punch. Apparently, gender is irrelevant for both fans and players in attitudes to the punch, as in this year’s AFLW inaugural season, several female players were reported and suspended for various arrant aberrations, including one player for a “a high hit” on an opponent that knocked her unconscious.
Personally, I’ve always loathed the on field cold, contrived and calculated violence and damning displays of erring players hasn’t deterred the deviance; players discovering new ploys to circumvent the wrath of the MRP. It’s worth recalling that it was in the era of the so-called clean, modern game of just 2005 that Swans forward, Barry Hall, received only a two-week suspension for an intentional strike on St Kilda’s Matt Maguire; a farcical fraud allowing Hall to play in the Swans’ victorious Grand Final.
Baum pointed out a ‘punch’, with or without a jumper shroud subsumes “the game’s message to the watching world,” obscuring a more pertinent perspective about violence per se.
Boxing champion Danny Green, organiser of Stop the Coward Punch campaign, recently accused Australian judges of being soft on one-punch thugs, claiming “We all feel like we are being let down by these judges who continually hand down light sentences for the kind of senseless violence which is claiming the lives of so many young men.”
The salient significance of ‘a punch’, be it on the field, a suburban street or behind closed doors at home, is that it is the resort of those without respect or reason to realise a punch can be potentially fatal and/or inflict serious injury. As Herald Sun columnist, Jon Ralph, suggested: “If everyone knew the ramifications of a punch, we would stop the problem in a heartbeat.” If judges don’t know or appreciate the ramifications either, how can we expect a low-level but nonetheless violent assault on the football field to generate a meaningful measure of retribution?
Political and public debate now focuses on increasing community crime and violence, yet even high standards of education in the judiciary seemingly have no tangible impact on the intolerance of violence. It is hardly surprising that our football crowds and others in suburbia reflect similar ignorance about a ‘punch”, be it physical or psychological. The mind suffers on both counts.
What’s integral is appreciating violence against another as intrinsically inhuman, or as psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, penned in a letter to Albert Einstein in 1933: “We may define “right”(ie law) as the might of a community. Yet, it too, is nothing else than violence…it is the communal, not individual, violence that has its way.” Cracking the code of law enshrining violence as inevitable and ineluctable across our social milieu, perpetrated, either consciously or unconsciously, at work, at home and at play, invites the creation of a new code of conduct incorporating both physical and mental tenacity without a punch of any kind touching anyone, anywhere. Now that could be a great message for the watching world!