There was a predictable outcry on Twitter when the AFL announced that Brisbane Lion Daniel Merrett could accept a two-week suspension for his forearm to the face of Gold Coast Sun David Swallow.
Immediately, all thoughts turned to Fremantle’s Nathan Fyfe, who was forced to accept the same sanction for an accidental head clash caused by choosing to bump the week before.
The raw data of those two collisions equating to those two penalties is, of course, grossly unfair. Lost in the immediate outrage of such incidents, usually led by tabloid journalists, is the different penalties and discounts that apply.
Merrett was actually given a certain amount of loadings points, which equated to a three-week suspension. In almost every scenario, a player pleading guilty is eligible for a 25 per cent discount on his penalty. In Merrett’s case, this was enough to get his points shifted to the two week barrier. Fyfe, unfortunately, had prior convictions that led to his penalty being increased from one week to two.
Despite the outrage from professional muck-rakers the likes of Channel Seven’s Mark Stevens and the Herald Sun‘s Jon Ralph (even the usually measured Gerard Whateley called the penalty “manifestly inadequate”), three weeks for Merrett is a worthy suspension for the incident in question.
Simply put, the greater good is served by players being entitled to a 25 per cent discount for pleading guilty. The tribunal doesn’t have to sit for several hours a week, any number of players and club officials aren’t inconvenienced over what could be a triviality or foregone conclusion and, perhaps most importantly of all, players get back on the field sooner.
So Daniel Merrett’s two weeks isn’t the problem. It’s having rules in place that sees Nathan Fyfe get two that is.
The DNA of Australian Rules football is players being spectacular and tough. The game was built on a base of high marks and hard bumps. While we still see the former, with Collingwood’s Jamie Elliott providing a prime example on the weekend, the latter has sadly been in the process of being phased out over the last few seasons by the game’s rule-makers and administrators.
The game is at its most exciting when hard, competitive men are bashing and crashing into each other from all angles with brutal force and a fierce desire to either win the football or protect their teammates.
When we think of the most memorable matches, and close grand finals are often at the top of the list, they are always extreme physical contests. No quarter asked, and none given. We want and need our players to be displaying fearlessness and ferociousness, and thinking of nothing but the contest, not second-guessing themselves and doubting their instinct as they approach an opposition player.
A stray, forceful elbow to the face with the intent to hurt? Yes, three weeks. Charging towards an opponent, leaving the ground to break a jaw with your shoulder? Sure, give him a holiday.
But laying a fair, hard, hip-and-shoulder bump, one that every AFL player would give out and receive many, many times a season, and missing games due in incidental and accidental head contact? Absolute nonsense that reaches into the heart of the fabric of our great game, and rips it apart.
Accidents happen. It’s a contact sport. And thuggery has been stamped out of the game.
Daniel Merrett will serve his rightful penalty. It is fair. It is just. Nat Fyfe’s treatment has been anything but.