Departing slightly from the question of what Dustin Martin did to a woman in a restaurant last weekend, it would appear the AFL have once again tripped themselves up in doing what they do: attempting to gain control of a situation and engineer an outcome.
3AW Drive host Tom Elliott spoke to the woman at the centre of the allegation before his Friday program, later relaying to listeners that “it’s safe to say she’s not happy with the AFL”.
Elliott was told that the woman in question “feels aggrieved and undermined” by the AFL’s handling of the situation, in which she says the league “encouraged her to water down her version of events”, and most damningly, that “somebody senior in the AFL has leaked information to journalists in an attempt to discredit her”.
It’s only one side of the story – the AFL is yet to respond – but let’s be honest: this sort of thing would hardly be a departure from type.
When faced with scandal, it’s long been the AFL’s modus operandi to get their arms around the issue, and not let go until the oxygen is gone.
Problem is, their grip isn’t that strong these days.
This one comes on the heels of another example, as a new book on the life and career of late AFL coach Dean Bailey was launched last week. Amongst much else, the book details the behaviour of the AFL during its ‘investigation’ into allegations that Melbourne tanked for draft picks. That’s the investigation where all were found not guilty, but punished anyway.
The book alleges that Bailey accepted his sanction, a 16-week suspension from the game, only after none other than Gillon McLachlan – now AFL CEO – told him his other option was to “never work in football again”.
And at the risk of wading into the god-forsaken Essendon drugs saga, it’s due in considerable part to the AFL’s interference and ‘management’ that what started as a sordid affair has become a never-ending horror story.
Crisis management AFL-style damns pithy notions of truth, transparency and process, opting instead to draw parties together on the story of least damage – usually a twisted one that insults the intelligence of anybody listening – and repeat it until the siren sounds. Or doesn’t sound, in the Essendon case.
The issues with this approach are three-fold.
First, it’s irresponsible toward the parties in question, guilty or innocent. Normally that’s unfair; when it’s a woman who’s allegedly been subjected to threats of violence, it’s downright ugly.
Second, it takes the piss out of the very people who own the game – the supporters. The AFL shamelessly insults people’s intelligence as it explains these conclusions with a straight face. While that mightn’t seem to matter here and there, it builds up a bank of ill will which isn’t forgotten.
It’s about the long term. Chipping away at people’s faith in the game has consequences when they’re so spoiled for sporting choice.
Last but certainly not least, it doesn’t work anyway.
The AFL is the most media-saturated industry in town, sporting or otherwise. As perfectly illustrated by Elliott’s comments, anybody in this game is spoiled for choice of a media conduit to make their feelings public. Whatever the AFL was trying to hide in the first place, it not only surfaces with ease, it’s accompanied and compounded by ugly accounts of the AFL’s attempts at thought control.
As noted philosopher Tony Soprano once said, “You can’t put shit back in the donkey”. If the AFL want to continue to run things like the mob, maybe they should listen to somebody who knows the game better than them. It’s hard to look good on your hands and knees with a fistful of manure.