April 19, 2008
The Canberra Times

Call the cops aggressive footballers deserve a mauling

I would like to report a crime to the police. And I want them to lay charges.

Last Saturday I witnessed a bloke called Barry throw a well- placed punch at the face of another bloke called Brent.

The furious force of the blow knocked Brent to the ground, and for a while we all thought he’d broken his jaw. It was the ugliest, most deliberately violent action I’ve witnessed in close-up.

Since then, I’ve seen it in slow- motion replay several times, and there can be no denying the intent to injure.

Barry isn’t denying it either.

By Monday he was hanging his head in contrived shame. He went public, admitting he did it – he threw the punch. He mumbled something about not intending to have such a dramatic impact, but he couldn’t look anyone in the eye as he said that. Standing before the authorities he pleaded ”guilty”. He tried explaining his brutality by saying he had a ”mind snap”. But Barry’s mind must be as weak as a twig to ”snap” so easily, without provocation.

With all the evidence before them – a concussed Brent with his near- broken jaw and a confession from Barry – will the police lay charges? Not on your Nellie.

Why? Because this is Australia, and Barry and Brent are footballers.Football commentators speak a lot of rubbish. Take this little gem from the Brisbane Lions coach Leigh

Matthews this week: ”I tell you what – Brent Staker’s jaw will feel better in a week. Barry Hall’s heart will be heavy for the rest of his life.”

I suspect the only thing that will make this thug’s heart heavy is the muck in his arteries after he scoffs a few meat pies and a slab of beer in celebration of his good fortune. How lucky can a bloke be?

Here in Australia, a brute with a twig for a brain can king-hit, smash, whack, thump and seriously injure someone – all with confessed intent – and get away with it, as long as it’s done in the name of football.

As long as the assault occurs on the field, in front of TV cameras and beamed into the homes of millions of families, the violent aggressor is immune from the law.

This is sport – Australian style. I wonder how that would play out in my workplace, where the television studio is my footy field.

What would happen if I was to have a little ‘mind snap’ during the evening news, and leap from my chair, crack the weather man across the face with the full force of my fist, and leave him concussed?

Like footy, the news is a live telecast. What would the viewers say? Suspend her for seven weeks? I doubt it.

”Arrest her!” more likely.

Not only did Big Bad Barry get a mere tickle on the knuckle for his calculated violence, he was elevated to A-list celebrity status.

Yesterday’s Melbourne Age newspaper ran a screamer banner on the front page: ”Exclusive column by Barry Hall”.

A full page photo, in all his beefy glory, graced the cover of the sport’s lift-out.

Barry the brute is Barry the star. His dribbling column laments how he ”stuffed up” and hasn’t been sleeping well, and how he thinks he should have been sent off the field. After all, Barry opines, ”It is unfair to have the opposition one good player down when you’ve just whacked him and you are still able to keep running around.”

Startling, isn’t it – the moral contrition of a thick-head thug.

But then, one footballer’s jaw- smashing punch is just another’s ”glassing” in the face. Wayne Carey didn’t mean to shove a glass so violently in his girlfriend’s face that he smashed it, and sliced her lip. He really just meant to ”throw” the wine.

But, like Barry, Carey is also a football star who has worked hard to redeem his past misdemeanours.

And we love that in Australia. We relish the spectacle of a bad-boy- brute, who then apologises. We know they’ll do it again, just as they have done it all before.

But we’re a forgiving lot. We’ll buy the magazine that’s paid a six-figure sum to ”tell all”.

And we’ll watch the TV shows that celebrate them as heroes and demi- gods.

After Barry’s attack on Brent, I was hanging on every word from the blokes on Fox Sport’s footy show On the Couch.

Their in-depth analysis of the ”incident” was tough. An assault charge? Not quite. ”I reckon at least eight weeks,” said one.

And he wasn’t talking about jail time.

Their talk then broadened to a wide-screen view of the incident. ”Where were all Brent Staker’s team mates?” they wondered.

Why hadn’t a few come flying at Barry, tackled him to the ground and knocked his block off? What kind of wimps were they?

Clearly these couch potatoes condone a certain level of violent retribution. Is it any wonder there is such a high rate of alcohol- and drug- related violence in Australian streets, pubs, schools and homes, when we are so utterly confused about what it is to be violent. And what it is to be manly.

To encourage footballers – of any code – to engage in brutal behaviour that has nothing to do with the ball at play, and everything to do with unchecked aggression, is simply not acceptable in any civil society. And yet we do.

To suggest that a footballer’s violent swing, or king-hit, aimed to injure an opponent is ok if it is kept on the field, is a little like saying feeding Christians to the lions is okay, as long as it’s done in an arena.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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