The hard men that soft modern sport has left behind
With Swans coach Paul Roos all but saying he’d like forward Barry Hall to retire after landing another stray punch, the question is now being asked: how many chances should Hall get before he’s just sacked?
I’d ask another question. Is Barry Hall really as big and bad as he is being made out to be, or is the controversy just an indication of how soft football and sporting culture generally has become in Australia?
In short – and at risk of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw - are Bazza and the likes of Andrew Symonds really too hard or have we just become too soft?
First to Barry. The guy’s behaviour is undoubtedly often pretty thuggish.
He is an ex-boxer who uses his size and ability to punch his opponents hard when he gets frustrated and, evidently, this is too often his first response.
You can see his most famous punch here.
But does being a thug preclude you from being a good player?
It doesn’t make you a great footballer or a smart player, but you can still be a pretty good footballer and Hall is.
The broader question is about the kind of behaviour that Hall is consistently penalised and pulled in front of the tribunal for.
Would it actually have been considered worthy of sacking even 20 years ago?
What about the style of Dermott Brereton’s play at Hawthorn - or more memorably Mark Yates at Geelong who famously king-hit Breteton in the opening seconds of the ‘89 Grand Final.
Without falling into a cliches about how “the game used to be tougher in the old days”, there are players who have a style that is overly aggressive - and while it can be an advantage and detrimental in games - we are wiping out any benefit through over-policing both on and off the field.
Mike Sheahan is the chief AFL writer and associate sport’s editor for the Herald-Sun and told The Punch he didn’t think Hall’s punch on Saturday was worth sacking him over.
“It’s an intriguing question isn’t it? The easy thing to say is “how many chances does this guy get” and chop him mid season. I’m not of that view,” Sheahan told The Punch.
“I’m not sure what the point would be of chopping him mid-season. They still have to pay him and they might still be a chance of making the finals. I’m not sure they should keep him next year though.
“This wasn’t a major incident in itself – it probably happens five to six times a game – but because it was him there’s a fair bit of attention on it.”
Sheahan goes on to make the point that players like Hall are invariably given more chances because of their talent.
“But look we have this same argument with extraordinarily talented people, like Andrew Symonds, get more chances because of the way they play the game, it’s just the case,” Sheahan says.
“They do need to say “look you’re a distraction to the club and the supporters and you will be gone if you do anything like this again this season.” But really what benefit is there in chopping him mid-season.”
During Sunday night’s 60 Minutes profile on dumped test cricketer Andrews Symonds, his best mate made the point that nobody would have batted an eyelid at Symonds behaviour 20 years ago, he would have been thought of as a hard man and a hard drinker.
Sometimes you just can’t separate the nature of the man from his play.
Look at David Boon. From just one generation ago of players ago and is celebrated for having drunk 52 tinnies on a flight to London.
You couldn’t separate the character of David Boon from this kind of behaviour and if you tried to do so he probably wouldn’t have played much cricket for Australia.
The issue is complicated by administrators who are rightly paranoid about players getting too drunk and getting involved in violence or sexual assault: see NRL incident #1482.
The reputation of AFL as a less thuggish sport than league on the field is important as is aims to set up a team in Western Sydney, with AFL boss Andrew Demetriou going to Blacktown for a promotional visit this Friday.
Demetriou will discuss the role of a new Community Advisory Group in setting up the Western Sydney. It sounds smart and kind of more like something Kevin Rudd would announce.
The AFL is also determined to capitalise on its excellent community ground work through Auskick, where thousands of parents have enlisted their kids to play AFL because it’s regarded as free from random acts of head-high violence - as long as the little tackers don’t end up standing Hally.
It just doesn’t seem like there’s much space for Barry Hall and Andrew Symonds in highly professionalised sport.
Which is kind of a shame for the fans, given that when they’re on song, they’re just so good to watch.
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