Eddie McGuire makes a fair point on indigenous players
There’s a pre-season football stink going on down Melbourne way which is a little hard to decode for those of us who live elsewhere. But here’s the guts of it.
Eddie McGuire is under fire for interviewing Melbourne Demons player Liam Jurrah on his new Fox show Eddie McGuire Tonight (EMT). Criticism has come thick and fast from, among others, Fairfax’s Caroline Wilson, The Australian’s Patrick Smith and the Melbourne Demons club itself.
Jurrah, who hails from a remote NT community, will face court in May on charges relating to a recent incident where he flew to Alice Springs and intervened in a family dispute. Alice Springs police allege an axe and machete were involved in the incident.
McGuire avoided wading into murky prejudicial waters in his interview with Jurrah. The Alice Springs incident wasn’t canvassed. Instead, the interview focused on Jurrah’s continuing desire to play AFL footy and, by so doing, to set an example to his people. His grandmother, who was also interviewed, echoed his sentiments.
McGuire attracted the usual barbs about him wearing the two hats of journalist and club official. With good reason, many asked how McGuire, as Collingwood president, would feel if a journalist “ambushed” one of his players without informing him first.
It was a fair question. But there’s a much bigger issue at stake, and McGuire used Melbourne radio to good effect yesterday to outline it. In short, he is concerned that AFL football has become so professional, and so structured, that clubs could soon become reluctant to hire players from indigenous or poorer socio-economic backgrounds.
Here’s a selection of what Eddie told Triple M in Melbourne:
Football with its structure and its strictures is getting harder for kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Not just aboriginal kids but kids who are leaving school.
The point I’m making is it’s getting harder and harder for kids to stay in football because of the disciplines involved.
I believe it’s a huge topic in football now that hasn’t been addressed. We inched into it with Liam on the weekend because of what was going on… basically the thesis is this, that football is so professional now, there’s so much pressure.
The media and the sponsors and the pressure on everyone now in football is so great they’re starting to say we can’t take the risk, and we’ve seen a lot of indigenous kids, and kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds… it’s getting harder and harder for kids to survive, and that’s the overwhelming story that we’re building towards, how do we stop that happening?
So basically, what Eddie appears to be saying is that young players and players with special circumstances need to be cut some slack. If players need time off for personal reasons, fine. If they need it without notice because they have a huge extended family, also fine.
That’s a rough, paraphrased version of the off-field component to his argument. There also appeared to be an unspoken component of his argument related to onfield issues, namely that young players are becoming more and more robotic. The AFL recruitment process now is all about Beep tests and athleticism. Somebody needs to remember that quaint and unquantifiable thing called “skill”.
Football historian and author Martin Flanagan spelled all of this out in The Age yesterday, as Eddie pointed out repeatedly on the radio.
Here are his excellent first two paragraphs:
“I’d heard the whispers before and, since Liam Jurrah’s dramas of the past week, the whispers have grown louder - AFL clubs are starting to back away from recruiting indigenous players.
“They’re ‘too hard’, it is said, ‘too much trouble’. Recruiters are paid to deliver premierships, not racial harmony, the argument runs. Sponsors don’t want their names associated with players breaking the law or offending community values.
Flanagan went on to argue for a summit to deal with the issue of how clubs deal with indigenous players. It’s a fair idea, especially when you consider that indigenous players now comprise up to 15 per cent of all AFL players. That number was miniscule just two decades ago before Kevin Sheedy and others cleared pathways.
It’s time to sweep the leaves off the pathway again. That’s pretty much what Eddie was banging on about yesterday. Maybe he overstepped the line in interviewing Jurrah, but for once, you can be sure he had the game’s interests at least on a par with his own.
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