Turns out Toby Greene is evil. I’m pretty sure about that.
I’ve seen him punch a small man in slow-motion 25 times. And that’s just scrolling through my phone over breakfast.
Greene’s latest offence, a roundhouse to the face, was a dirty punch crudely disguised as a spoil. Vision of the Bulldogs’ cherubic Caleb Daniel lying face-down in the grass featured on news programs, post-game panels and social media.
Greene couldn’t have chosen a more vulnerable player to strike. Caleb Daniel is 168cm and on cultural exchange from Auskick. And thus, Toby Greene has secured his role as the AFL’s villain du jour. It’s handy timing, because we need one.
The AFL is a monster of a reality show. It supports a host of ancillary media – talkshows, podcasts, websites. And all semi-narrative entertainments have needs for storylines, heroes, villains and characters in-between.
Not to say Greene isn’t complicit in his villainy. Toby Greene is a thug-artist. It was the third incident in as many weeks: a fine for striking against Port, a headbutt in Sydney, now this.
Greene is building a delinquent’s CV with intensity and range. Last year Greene was fined for spitting at Richmond’s Anthony Miles- a highlight/lowlight, depending on what you get from football.
AFL media enthusiastically claims Greene as a villain not just because he is a disreputable idiot, but also because the landscape needs to correct an imbalance of heroes and villains. We have crowned too many good blokes, and it’s getting untenable.
Thanks to club and personal media teams savvy to positive spin, players are positioned to seemingly all be great blokes and great leaders. There is no person as positive or aspirational as the Lite n’ Easy version of Luke Hodge. I suspect the real Luke Hodge – darkly competitive, occasionally law-breaking Hodge, is (a) far more interesting and (b) far less effective at selling frozen meals.
It’s a reductive way to think about things, well, people. Bob Murphy is probably no saint. Brendon Goddard probably has a sense of humour. Mitch Robinson can probably read. But nuance is difficult in a league that trades in simple, recognisable characters. I trade in it as well. My world is certainly a funner place if I can pretend Tom Bugg is a dark genius consumed by the misery of others.
Greene cannot argue or spin. Last season, he attempted to explain that he didn’t mean to spit at Miles, a former teammate. Unfortunately, the ‘accidental spit’ defence doesn’t work if it comes right after you give Miles a forceful shove. And now we have our villain.
It comes in a time of need. Villain stocks are running low. A desperate push for a negative story last month told us how reprehensible it was for Jesse Hogan to be smoking while recovering from injury. In a sign of the times, fellow player Scott Pendlebury was compelled to comment, calling it “staggering” on a Collingwood media podcast.
A tenuous story to start with, the miscalculation got worse. It was later revealed that Hogan was dealing with his father’s terminal illness. It’s not just heroes and villains, it’s all over.
This week, the media forced a half-baked and unformed ‘Nat Fyfe to St Kilda’ storyline not because of its veracity; but because the AFL is due for a mid-season trade story. Scholars of AFL media will recall prior incarnations: Dangerfield to Geelong, Franklin to GWS, Cloke to Carlton etc.
The AFL machine is about sport in the same way My Kitchen Rules is about cooking. There will always be the same storylines, season after season. There’s always going to be a bitchy contestant who isn’t happy with the texture of your flan. Or whatever.
It is easy to find the ratbag in Toby Greene. But the enduring challenge for those who accept it, is to find the relateable.