The AFL is failing in the game



It’s never a surprise when the AFL is pissed off and selective about indiscretions on the field.

There is no consistency, although it seems there should to be.

In today’s landscape, the head is sacred. It must be protected at all costs. Therefore, bumps are effectively prohibited. That is why the pendulum is considered so dangerous. But a blow to the back? Hmm, that’s not so bad.

Towards the end of Saturday’s third quarter at Richmond-Collingwood, Tiger defender Rhyan Mansell fell into the back of Magpie forward Jack Ginnivan. Mansell drove a forearm into the back of Ginnivan’s head—that first punch would have been accidental, a result of momentum.

But then Mansell did it again on purpose.

And the response to that?

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick didn’t like it. “At the end of the day, I didn’t notice it compared to other players,” he said at his post-match press conference. “But we want our little backs to be physical and like most other backs in the AFL they would do the exact same thing.”

Well, he’s trying to influence the context to make sure we all know that, hey, it’s hard out there, and sometimes things happen. Um okay.

“He will be fined or a week for that – probably a fine because it had little impact,” commentator Jason Dunstall said during the match.

Low impact?

This seems to be the reaction of the media. Surely no one has highlighted it and talked about it with the seriousness it deserves.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Let’s take a step back here: What would my punishment be if I walked into a bar, had a heated verbal exchange with someone, and when they weren’t looking, she decided to hit the back of the head? Can I go to court and claim, “Hey, it’s low impact”?

Years ago, this type of attack was labeled a “king hit.” Then there was rightly a push to de-glamorize it. “King hit” sounded noble. There was something majestic about it. No – it had to be branded for what it was. It then became the “coward sponge”, which was much more appropriate. Tragically, there is a litany of examples of people being hit in this way and then seriously injured or later killed.

No one should find this defensible.

I’m not sure why the AFL doesn’t categorize these incidents as the worst of the worst.

The way I’m explaining it is that there are three kinds of indiscretions in the Australian rules.

1. Actions that the AFL tries to take out of play, such as the punch (to the head) and the sling
2. Acts resulting from incidental contact, e.g. late loot taking an opponent in the face
3. Acts of the ball, or acts of sheer violence, eg a strike.

The latter should always be considered worse. They are not football picks that were timed wrong (e.g. a late loot) or gone wrong (a bump that caught an opponent’s face).

It is a conscious choice a player makes at that moment to hurt an opponent. There is no reason or excuse for it. They are the only act that can be compared to intentional and violent behavior anywhere. These decisions have no place in life, let alone football.

Some will argue that Jack Ginnivan played Mansell, or that Ginnivan is so annoying that it’s not surprising that he got some sort of reward. Such defenses are victim blaming. If Hardwick can argue that his defenders’ job is to be physical, then Ginnivan can certainly be annoying and try to take them out of the game.

If the AFL really intends to clean up the game, these kinds of actions should not only be punished, they should be punished so severely that it becomes an immediate deterrent. No player in any league should ever think for a moment that this is okay.

Rhyan Mansell may be a young player who is still finding his way around the game, but that’s all the more reason why the line has to be drawn here.

Not only should the AFL take a tough stance, they should be messaging footballers everywhere that this behavior is unacceptable.

Uh-uh. A week. That’s the punishment.

I think the AFL will just wait for someone to get seriously injured before taking any real action.

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