Ablett’s Twitter tempest: AFL thinkers a danger to us all

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    I know you’ll be shocked as I was, especially if you’re a regular reader of this site, but I have to break it to you. Last weekend, a man had an opinion about sport.

    Regular visitors to The Roar will know that this isn’t the kind of behaviour that can be condoned. Imagine if you went about just … having opinions, willy-nilly. Thinking about whether it’s too cold for a t-shirt, deciding you’re not that into a certain kind of cheese, maybe even weighing up who you might vote for.

    You have to cut that stuff out. Because if you don’t, it leads to things like the following. On Friday night, while Carlton was playing Fremantle in the AFL, a young shiny-headed chap by the name of Gary Ablett Junior picked up his phone and jumped on Twitter.

    Fremantle’s tagger Ryan Crowley, thought Ablett, was paying unfairly close attention to Carlton champ Chris Judd. Crowley, Ablett went on to ponder, played extensively this way, as a negative influence rather than doing anything constructive with his game.

    This, it must be said, is one of those dreaded matters of opinion. Some people respect the negating player and the defensive mindset as cornerstones of a good contest. Others believe sport should be a more open, free-flowing affair.

    Communists, we call them. Because that’s what idealists usually are. Aesthetics are for artsy wankers, and all that matters are results. Or perhaps those people are the antithesis of communists, extending the free-flowing market theory of Reaganism to the movement of the ball on a football field?

    Whatever. The point is that Gary Ablett had an opinion on these things. He liked the open play aspect, and thought Crowley’s style was unadmirable. And he said so. In a public forum.

    It’s the last bit that’s the most shocking. Having opinions quietly to yourself in a cupboard, before you flagellate your bare shoulders with a flaming birch switch to cleanse your spirit of the shame, is one thing. But having them out in the open where other people can see them? Gross. That’s like suntanning your scrotum on a crowded bus.

    Sure, Ablett’s a nice guy. Sure, he’s been to the tribunal once in a decade, six years ago, for a hip and shoulder worth a reprimand, and had the charge thrown out. Sure, he’s played the game like a gentleman while winning two flags and a Brownlow.

    Sure, his Twitter account is mostly him retweeting charity requests and sending cheery greetings to friends and fans. Sure, his response to the most abusive message he got from a random Crowley fan was “You have a great day 2 bro!”

    But wasn’t going to let him get away with his nice guy routine. Ooh, look at me, I get 40 possessions every week. I guess that means I can go around just… thinkin’. And sayin’ stuff.

    Not so fast, Friedrich Nietzsche.

    “TWEET STORM” said the league’s website the next afternoon, with a nice big red banner photo of Ablett’s face. “Ablett tweet draws fire,” went the secondary headline. “Gary Ablett’s provocative tweet aimed at Freo’s Ryan Crowley has caused a wave of controversy,” said the summary line. “A storm is brewing around Gary Ablett’s provocative match-time tweet,” the article finally began.

    And what a storm it was. If a storm like that hit Melbourne it would likely moisten several of the smaller plants in my herb garden, and mildly disturb a currawong.

    A horizon all torn to shreds. A boiling morass of cloud. The sun like the doomed red eye of Sauron glowering from the soup-thick sky. Yes, so fierce was the storm of criticism that David Smorgon – the David Smorgon, President of the Western Bulldogs, most powerful man in Hoppers Crossing – said that he’d probably rather his players didn’t do that.

    Then Dermott Brereton, that normally shy and retiring repository of modesty, may have mentioned it as well. According to the report, he had “told SEN Ablett had made a mistake in sending the tweet,” presumably in such a vicious and incendiary fashion that his comment wasn’t even quotable.

    Then … well, that was about it, really. Those two. It’s a sign of the high regard in which Dermie is held, renowned for his generosity in acting as a refuge for failed or distressed haircuts, that he is now regarded as not just one but an undisclosed number of footballers.

    “A club president and a host of footy identities have taken to the airwaves to have their say on whether Ablett’s tweet … is in the spirit of the game or a good look for a club captain,” said, before going on to list the aforementioned club president and Dermie. I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but I still put that headcount at two.

    Presumably that was the wave of controversy’s high-water mark.

    Aside from the AFL’s own site, the rest of the internet in its entirety turned out two other articles on the tweet, two on the potential after-effects, one about Ablett saying there was no problem with it, three about the AFL saying there was no problem with it, and two about Fremantle players saying they didn’t care.

    Perth Now was unsurprisingly the most vocal, with “Fremantle Dockers thow support behind Ryan Crowley in Twitter war with Gary Ablett.” Considering they can’t spell ‘throw’, perhaps we shouldn’t be taking their definitions too seriously, but if an unanswered tweet constitutes a war, it must have been the Nazi invasion of Denmark.

    Fittingly, the AFL’s website fearlessly demanded a response from Ablett’s coach at the Suns, Guy McKenna. “It’s happened, it’s going to continue to happen, again you don’t want to incite a riot or hurt anyone’s feelings and I don’t think he’s quite done that,” said the man in charge.

    Not quite, Bluey. Not quite. But that sounds dangerously like an apologist argument. AFL players are highly paid professionals who dedicate their entire lives to studying and refining the art of Australian Rules football. The last thing we want them to do is start thinking about it.

    Should footballers even be allowed to watch AFL games? Won’t watching lead to the very real risk of thinking? Won’t thinking lead to opinions? Can’t opinions, unless very carefully monitored, run the very real risk of being transmitted to other human beings?

    There are impressionable kids out there, dear readers. Do they deserve to be exposed to that sort of stuff?

    Not on my watch.

    I’d ask you to tell me what you think about it, but we all know that’s disgusting.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.