The story first came to the attention of many people via The Outer Sanctum podcast. Their mention of what, at that stage, was an incident almost not reported at all sparked conversation on social media. It was suggested by some, myself included, that someone of note needed to bring this to the attention of a wider audience. The problem was that it seemed no one had actually heard what was said on Triple M that day. Or, at least no one that had heard it thought anyone involved should be brought to account.
It was at this point that I realised the pre-game broadcast would have been podcasted, so I found the audio and tweeted it. I then gave Erin Riley some assistance in transcribing what was said by whom. I don’t blame her for having issues with the voices involved, either. It seems there is a certain type of person allowed to enter the Triple M commentary box and they all look and sound rather similar. Erin knew which voice was McGuire’s, but who was Duck, JB, Purple and Spud? And what’s with all the nicknames?
Let’s talk about nicknames for a moment. It would appear that there is an unwritten rule in footy media at the moment that no man shall be addressed by their given name. Nicknames only, thank you. While I’m sure this is used as a means of making the broadcast sound like a bunch of mates talking, and in turn makes the listener feel like they are among mates, it can also make it feel very exclusive. By which I mean that outsiders are not allowed or at least viewed with a deal of suspicion.
That aside, when Erin had published her article calling out the behaviour of the commentators the story began to snowball. Within a day or two it was the lead story on most news bulletins and I had the surreal experience of having my name mentioned on national news channels. It felt as though I was a part of something that was going to affect some change in the footy media landscape. Clearly we had struck a nerve when “Sam” Newman referred to “second tier media” as “excrement.”
Perhaps, I thought, the time of casual and accepted sexism, racism and homophobia in the footy media had passed. The on field behaviour of players has largely progressed to reflect the values of modern society, surely the media covering the game will follow suit.
On the weekend just gone Port Adelaide played Gold Coast in an historic match in Shanghai, China. The build up to the match had it’s share of negativity. Everything from cultural cringe to xenophobia was exhibited in the media, both professional and social. Once the match had come and gone, though, it seemed to be well received and mostly successful. Then came the post match coverage on Fox Footy’s satirical program, and I use that term in the loosest possible manner, Bounce.
In a turn of events worthy of a Ron Burgundy meme, The Footy Show gang, led by "Hughesy," presented what they said was a rebuke from the competition’s cheer squads. It was a banner that accused Maddern of resembling Shrek when she wasn’t wearing makeup, complete with an image of a grotesque looking topless woman.
One may ask, if you don’t like what passes for humour on these programs, why watch them? To that I answer, I don’t. If recent ratings trends are to be believed neither do many others.
That’s not really the point, though. The Footy Show is a mainstream program on primetime television. A changing media landscape or not, that is one of the faces of the game to many members of the public.
The same could hardly be said of Bounce, since it only appears on pay TV at a time when most people have switched over from the footy and begun their weekend wind down. The cast of the show are very much mainstream footy types. The likes of “Chief” Dunstall, “Spud” Frawley and “Moons” Mooney can be heard on TV commentary, radio commentary as well as other programs on Fox Footy. They are part of the gang.
In the end there is so much crossover that it’s increasingly hard to avoid the same faces and voices, regardless of which coverage of the game you choose. If you watch Channel 7 you get Duck, Darce, BT and Hammer. The nickname epidemic has reached such proportions that even Bruce McAvaney is referred to as “Macca” on occasion. If you decide upon the radio coverage of Triple M you get JB, Duck, BT and Darce. SEN gives you Spud, Ox, Dermie and Robbo. Fox Footy is a combination of the lot.
The wider cast of footy pundits is more or less made up of the same people that were regularly appearing on The Footy Show in the mid 90s and sometimes it seems the attitudes are as stuck in that time as the lineup.
Whether it’s Frawley’s racist skit, The Footy Show’s sexist banner, Dermott Brereton’s homophobic implication of grooming in the AFLW, or Garry Lyon questioning Erin Phillips’ decision to take her twin babies on to the field in the AFLW grand final, there is example upon example of an industry that does not reflect the public that desires some in depth footy debate.
That is something that is lost among all of this, the lack of actual footy discussion. One would assume in a world with essentially 24 hour coverage of footy that there would be some sort of insightful statistical analysis, or dissection of game styles and set plays at the fore. Too often, though, that is pushed to the background in favour of matey banter.
After Fremantle’s post-siren win against Richmond last weekend I learnt more about what the Tigers did wrong in the last 20 seconds from Twitter than I could hope to learn from mainstream footy media. Not every moment spent talking about footy need be so acute in detail, but it does give you a rich understanding and appreciation of the game. Channel 7’s post game analysis would seem to peak at Brian Taylor wandering around the changerooms like an uncle who was mistakenly invited to a 21st.
So, what’s the real problem, then? If I want in depth footy discussion I can find it on social media and various “second tier media” sources. If I want to watch footy I can mute the commentary. If I want to listen to footy, I can tune in to ABC or 3AW who are, so far, largely racism and sexism free.
The problem is that a great many people don’t choose these options and every time a club president jokes about drowning a woman, or a record holding former club captain resorts to racial stereotypes, it normalises it for those watching or listening. I think most of the footy media are good people and, for the most part, they should be respected, but perhaps it’s time that some fresh faces joined the ranks. Hearing and seeing the same white male faces for the last 25 years is getting slightly tiresome.
What really hit the point home for me this week was the reaction to the melee during the St. Kilda-Carlton game and its aftermath. Let me first say that sledging of a highly personal nature, as was the case on Sunday, should not have a place on an AFL field. Marc Murphy’s obvious hurt and his reaction is evidence enough of that. However, in an environment where a certain amount of physical violence is encouraged, and adrenaline is ever present and extremely heightened, there will be times that verbal barbs are used. Players tread a very fine line on the field both mentally and physically.
To that end, the calls from some sections of the media for a players’ Code Of Conduct are misguided at best and disingenuous at worse. No sensible person could argue that vilification of a racial, sexual or personal nature should be tolerated on the field. By the same token, nor should it be tolerated in the media.
Players can at least use as an excuse the extreme pressure to perform, to gain any sort of ascendancy over their opponent so that their multi-million dollar organisation can have some small advantage over the competition. The same cannot be said for the media.
Before calling for Codes Of Conduct, or demanding that players hit a contest as hard as possible, but not say something nasty to their opponent, maybe take a look at your own backyard and see if there’s any reform to be considered there.