Sledging, racism and the Golden Rule

Gordon P Smith Roar Guru

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    There were two intriguing statements in the AFL this past week that harken back to the racism column I wrote a few weeks ago.

    One was in the aftermath of the St Kilda-Carlton boilover: the sledges thrown Marc Murphy’s way, and the one he threw at a prostrate Jake Carlisle, which Saints teammate Jarryn Geary took physical offence to on Carlisle’s behalf.

    While the niggling the Saints gave Murphy was apparently not racial (or sexual or religious) in nature, Murphy’s statement that he was offended on his wife’s behalf suggests that there are other topics that are inappropriate on the pitch beyond those ‘big three’.

    Certainly, the call from Paul Roos, Chris Scott, Damian Barrett, and a host of others to “move into the 21st century” has been clarion clear, and Barrett, in particular, points out that the AFL pitch is their workplace, and in no other workplace in Australia would such sledging be acceptable (no other workplace is this competitive, but that’s an argument for another day).

    On Access All Areas, Matthew Lloyd set out a reasonable guideline, one that will change with the times as we have over the years: if you can’t shake a bloke’s hand after the match, or more specifically if he won’t shake yours, then you’ve crossed that line.

    I don’t know what was said to Murphy, and I certainly don’t know what he said to Carlisle, but I strongly suspect that both failed the ‘Lloyd test’.

    The other statement was an off-hand comment by Ross Lyon on the troubled state of former star Harley Bennell, acquired by Fremantle from the Gold Coast two years ago and yet to play a game for the Dockers – at least, the Fremantle version.

    Bennell played for the Peel Dockers last weekend and showed that he’s as troubled as the US President right now. Fremantle ‘docked’ him $5000 for his behaviour on the sideline at three-quarter time, with another $5000 suspended as a carrot for sticking with his rehab program.

    But it was this set of comments from his coach that caught my eye, quoted by Travis King on the AFL’s website:

    “It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t exactly pleasing. He certainly caused no harm to anybody and wasn’t putting his best foot forward,” Lyon said. “We’ve sanctioned Harley, but we’ll always challenge that behaviour and support the person, and work really hard to get Harley back to his best.

    “It would be a terrible shame, wouldn’t it, to lose a young indigenous footballer in this country of this level of talent.”

    While there is nothing about Lyon’s comment that could be considered racist, it is interesting that part of Bennell’s appeal as a player (to Lyon) is that he is an “indigenous” footballer. Wouldn’t it be a terrible shame if Harley threw away his career through his mistakes regardless of his race?

    In 2017, we all walk an awkward line, a line between politically correct and being honest about the state of the world. Too many people who say they’re just being honest are actually being crude and cruel, while too many trying to espouse political correctness are actually trying to sanitise our speech into meaningless drivel.

    The line between takes both intelligence and courage to walk.

    We do have a race problem: in Australia, where you’re reading this; in America, where I’m writing this; and in the rest of the world as well. To say otherwise is to bury our heads in the sand. But to spend our lives focusing on it would be to encourage that division through constant attention.

    In my earlier column on racism, I mentioned Doug Williams, the first black quarterback in the NFL Super Bowl. He hated the attention. In fact, his fondest wish was to see the day when nobody mentioned the fact that the quarterbacks were black, white, red, or green.

    Christ was clear that the way to get around issues like race was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Whether that neighbor was white, black, indigenous, or Martian, treat them as you would treat yourself. We get the Golden Rule from this fundamental commandment of the Lord’s, and it’s still a universal guideline even in non-Christian cultures: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – not as they have done to you! You don’t seek revenge through the Golden Rule, you demonstrate equality.

    Sledging becomes easy to regulate if you live your life by this principle. For example, I’m somewhat overweight, and my congenital health issues prevent me from doing much about it. Is my being fat fair game? I’d say so; I joke about it myself. My wife died three years ago; is her death fair game? I would hope not.

    It’s not difficult to figure out the magical imaginary ‘line’ not to cross, if you simply turn the question around. Should you tease Murphy about his wife on some unfounded rumor? Well, how would you react if that was said (repeatedly) to you? Yeah, me neither.

    Ever hear Jarryd Roughhead sledged over his cancer? Expect to hear anything against Jesse Hogan when he returns? Any sledging of Lance Franklin after his bout with depression? Some topics are obviously off the board; for the rest, we turn the question around.


    AAP Image/Rob Blakers

    As for Lyon’s comment? Innocuous. If he’d said about me, “It’d be a shame if we lost an American player of his level of talent”, I’d first question his sanity about describing me in those words, and then I’d say, “Yeah, I see where you’re coming from; it’s good for business from a PR standpoint, to be honest.”

    So, whether you’re Christian or not, following the actual Golden Rule, the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, to treat every other person in the world the way you would want to be treated, will get you down that thin line between PC and brutally honest with your character, integrity, and friendships intact.

    Here’s hoping the AFL and its players can conduct themselves in that manner from here on out.