Friday Night Lights, Fevola and the No Di*kheads rule
There aren’t many television shows worth watching but I would urge everybody to go out and buy the five season DVD box set of the American drama Friday Night Lights. This critically acclaimed and largely unwatched program is ostensibly about the tribulations of a high school gridiron team in the fictitious Texan town of Dillon.
It is in reality a show about life itself, and the good and bad judgments which people make while growing up and as adults, and the ramifications those decisions have on their lives and the lives of others.
The star of the show is the intense but big-hearted Eric Taylor, the coach of the Dillon Panthers, whose determination to win is tempered by his compassion for the young men under his charge.
The program starts with the paralysis during a game of a star quarterback, whose best mate, also a gun forward, subsequently sleeps with his quadriplegic teammate’s girlfriend. Another player succumbs to steroid abuse. Taylor is a believer in personal responsibility but he also prepared to give people a second chance, even a third chance, as someone who also believes in the capacity for personal change.
I was thinking of Friday Night Lights on Wednesday as I sat in the crowd at a charity lunch where the guest of honour was the troubled former Carlton star Brendan Fevola. There is insufficient space here to summarise Fevola’s rap sheet, be it belting a security guard, releasing a salacious photograph of Lara Bingle with whom he had an affair, drunkenly wandering Melbourne’s streets with a dildo hanging from his pants, being even drunker at the Brownlow, so drunk that even Channel Nine could no longer tolerate his conduct.
Fevola has been dumped by his wife, dumped by his old network and dumped by his teams, first by Carlton then by the Brisbane Lions. Watching him on stage at Wednesday’s charity event was a bit like watching the final scene of Martin Scorcese’s Raging Bull, where the once-great boxer Jake La Motta tries his hand hosting cabaret in a bar to make a living. The difference is that La Motta by then was not only washed up and grossly overweight, and he was completely devoid of any self-awareness. Fevola in contrast remains a brilliantly talented athlete who could definitely play another season or two at the highest level. Fevola also knows that he has made an ass of himself, repeatedly, and is trying to turn it around.
At the start of this year, after a suicide attempt around Christmas which he recounted in a remarkably honest interview on The Footy Show, Fevola had totally bottomed out. Of his own volition he checked into rehab, spending eight weeks taking a suite of prescription drugs to curb his addictions and treat his depression. The drugs made him fat – at the start of what should have been his football season this year he weighed 120kg. He is now down to 102kg and in the past seven games with the VFL side Casey Scorpions has kicked a more than handy 51 goals.
Fevola was often the funniest and always one of the more likeable members of The Footy Show panel before his dumping by Nine. During his interview on stage at Wednesday’s charity event he showed plenty of that droll self-deprecation, including when he was being asked a good question about whether Nine hung him out to dry by airing his drunken Brownlow footage, knowing the trouble it would cause him.
“Well it’s all about ratings and it rated its arse off,” he told the crowd. “I’m told it was the most watched episode of The Footy Show ever. I’m just glad I could help them out.”
It was a charitable analysis of the event that cost him his job. It was also generous of Fevola to excuse Nine for its role as the indifferent enablers of his crappy conduct. It also overlooked the fact that a career ratbag such as Sam Newman continues to enjoy star billing, or the deeply suspect Ricky Nixon enjoys a forum via the program to make a hilarious attempt at rehabilitating his reputation.
Away from TV and inside the AFL itself, Fevola must also wonder why he’s been granted permanent persona non grata status when there are a few blokes happily running around who have faced the gravest accusations of crimes towards women.
He is more boofhead than brute.
There were still some flashes of foolishness on Wednesday, such as when he explained that the recent incident where he was seen chundering in a beer garden wasn’t because he was drunk but because he’d inhaled some sidestream smoke from a cigar. It may have been a fair explanation but his subsequent disclaimer - “Anyway I’d only had four beers” – was a bit of a worry given that he’s shown he doesn’t need many more beers to make a goose of himself.
When Paul Roos was coaching the Sydney Swans to their first flag in 2005 he implemented a pithily-named policy at the club called the “no dickheads” rule as he formed a premiership-winning team. The strictest interpretation of this rule is being applied to Fevola, throughout the AFL, unless of course a club decides to chance its arm and give him another crack at first grade next year.
If Coach Taylor were not the fictitious coach of a television gridiron team but in charge of an AFL side, Fevola might be in with a chance. You would suspect that in this modern, marketing-driven sporting culture, where even coaches talk about the need to protect the brand, the risk would be deemed too great. Even though under the no dickheads rule, plenty of bigger ones have slipped through the net.
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