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Dustin Martin innocent, mass media guilty

Dustin Martin was a stand-out during Richmond's mediocre season - is it any wonder he wants to test the waters? (AAP Image/Julian Smith).
Expert
14th January, 2016
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33141 Reads

“A 12-month suspension and a $50,000 donation to an appropriate women’s organisation seems a realistic and fair conclusion for the club, the AFL and the image of the game.” – Kevin Barlett, SEN, 8/12/15

“Richmond can sack Dustin Martin for his foul-mouthed and intimidating behaviour…” – Jon Ralph, Herald-Sun, 8/12/15

“The club can throw the book at him with a 15-week suspension…” – Jon Ralph, Herald-Sun, 8/12/15

“I think that he needs to go for 12 months and then move him on.” – Patrick Smith, SEN, 11/12/15

These are just an example of direct quotes from some of the most powerful voices in the football media, in the days after the news aired that Dustin Martin had been accused of threatening to kill and stab a woman in the face with chopsticks, amid other threatening behaviour that Jon Ralph also described as terrifying, cowardly and menacing.

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All of this outrage, disgust and condemnation before a single allegation had been investigated and before any facts had been confirmed.

My favourite quotes though, were from Greg Denham, of The Australian and SEN. This from a man who revels in his nickname of ‘Venom Denham’:

“I can’t think of anything more awful (or) damaging than this allegation in my time in footy. I just think it’s pathetic.

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“One year out of the game… wouldn’t upset me at all.

“Fine him $50,000.

“It’s an absolute blight on the code.”

Well actually Greg, it’s these sort of hysterical, sensational, over-zealous reactions, of the kind you specialise in, that are a blight on the code and, frankly, sports journalism in this country.

Let’s go with the facts now.

Dustin Martin, on the night he was accused, has admitted to being intoxicated, disruptive, argumentative and indulging in obscene language. He apologised for this behaviour, which was accepted by the complainant and alleged victim.

A statement from Victoria police confirmed they had conducted an extensive investigation, concluding with the following:

“After reviewing CCTV footage and speaking to all parties involved, including numerous independent witnesses at the restaurant on the night, investigators determined that no criminal offence took place.”

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The AFL also conducted its own investigation, concluding “the evidence does not support further allegations of physically intimidating or threatening behaviour”.

The upshot is that Martin has been handed a suspended sentence of $5000 for breaching the AFL Player Code of Conduct, and won’t be sanctioned with any of the outlandish white noise mentioned above.

Martin was being condemned by some of the most senior sports journalists in the land, with absolutely no regard for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty that is the right of everyone in this country.

So who now is going to hold these journalists to account?

Let’s take Kevin Bartlett off the air for 12 months. Fine Greg Denham $50,000. Patrick Smith to be moved on. Jon Ralph to suffer a 15-week suspension.

Given the reaction to Martin was so visceral, we should also wonder aloud why he was not given the benefit of the doubt by many media and public.

It’s because he looks the way he does. The hair. The neck tattoos. All tattoos.

He keeps questionable company. He hasn’t been afraid to give a handcuff salute to an imprisoned mate in a final. He doesn’t mind giving two fingers to the Collingwood cheer squad.

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Dustin Martin doesn’t appeal as someone a father would like their daughter to bring home. Few mothers would want their sons to befriend him. He’s easy not to like.

In short, he’s not Jobe Watson, Scott Pendlebury, or Joel Selwood. He just plays football to a similar standard as them.

There has been a lot of debate in this country about the treatment of Adam Goodes, particularly the racial undertones that have underpinned the entire argument.

I wonder how many of those defending Goodes against perceived racial attacks (a more than worthy position), were all too happy to pre-emptively judge Dustin Martin based on looks alone.

The Richmond Football Club was also attacked for not taking a strong enough stance.

Bartlett called their response “pathetic”. Our man Venom Denham called the Tigers “sycophantic” and “tepid”.

Patrick Smith believed that Richmond’s integrity would be compromised if they didn’t suspend Martin for a year and then trade him out.

He tweeted, “Tiger fans will soon know whether the club has a conscience and a culture of integrity or a malignant case of sycophancy.”

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In truth, Richmond showed the strongest leadership of all simply by being patient. By waiting for professionals to do their job. By not reacting early simply to sate a blood-thirsty media, the over-zealous moral police within public at large, and even a select group of right-minded Tiger fans who let their passionate disappointment flow.

Dustin Martin was in the wrong on the Saturday night in question. His behaviour was indecent. He has accepted that and apologised.

But Dustin Martin ended up a victim too. His reputation tarnished. His name dragged through the mud by those who live in the gutter.

Let this case remind us not to be reduced to zealotry, whichever side of an argument we find ourselves on. Let’s not blindly condemn or defend. There is still room in society for a moderate reaction.

If only our journalistic leaders could show the way.

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