Players can have an opinion, but there’s a fine line
Former Carlton player turned AFL umpire Jordan Bannister (Slattery Images)
Carlton were yesterday fined $7500 for tweets sent by injured players during Thursday’s game with West Coast that were critical of the umpiring.
It seemed as though from the second the players put finger to phone, there was support coming from all angles.
“Let the players speak their mind!” was the cry of the typical fan.
Which is all well and good. Great hypocrisy is exposed when those who call for more characters in the game are the first to go “tsk tsk” when a player does something that has a 0.001% of offending someone.
Except in this instance, the players – Marc Murphy and Jeremy Laidler, as well as Jarrad Waite who became the first AFL player to be found guilty of re-tweeting – deserved to cop a whack.
Those who pre-emptively leapt to their defence can return to their seats (assuming last night’s earthquake didn’t knock them over).
To be clear, it’s got nothing to do with “protecting the brand”. I’ve heard that line a few times this week and it’s fair to say the less it’s repeated in footy circles the better. Ugh.
Yes, in a lot of other work places airing concerns with your employer on social media is going to get you in some trouble. But a lot of other work places don’t generate the same attention as AFL football – if every man and his dog can have a say on “the brand”, we can’t exclude the players.
The real problem with the tweets from Thursday is a little more tangible.
It’s the fact that each and every year, all around the country, footy leagues grapple with a problem called recruiting umpires.
No matter how many times people preach the importance of respecting the umpire and his decisions, the reality is it’s tough to recruit and keep people willing to umpire footy in local leagues.
Abuse and just a general lack of respect can drive young umpires away from the whistle, and even experienced umpires aren’t immune. Some simply get to the point where they’ve had enough.
The message has to come from the top, at the AFL level, that there simply isn’t a game without the umps. And no group of people at AFL level have more power to influence those in lower leagues on this issue than the players.
They need to set an example of how the player-umpire relationship should work.
That’s not to say they should be forever silenced. By all means, if there is an issue, Jeff Gieschen’s door should be open to them. Clubs, too, should have the power to pass on concerns.
But there’s no need to heap public pressure on the umpires.
Players are allowed to speak their mind, and Twitter has ensured we get a great deal more of what’s on their mind than ever before. However, some things have to be off limits.
Given the position of leadership the players are in, umpires simply must be one of them.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio