Sports fans in Australia are fortunate indeed. Not just because we have such a rich variety of elite sports to entertain us. Not just because our sporting champions so often punch above their weight on the international stage. Not just because of Glenn Maxwell.
We are fortunate because our sporting heroes, once they become too old and feeble and stupid to play anymore, commit to providing entertainment and enlightenment to us for many decades into their retirement.
Take Sam Newman, the plain-speaking, sacred-cow-puncturing, show-tune-butchering, mannequin-groping, blackface-donning, disability-mocking, penis-displaying, word-slurring clown prince of football.
Here is a man who could easily, once his footballing career ended, have faded gracefully into the background. Or faded gracefully into the foreground. Or done anything gracefully at all.
Yet here he is, putting in the hard yards, going the extra mile, week in and week out, sticking out that venerable, turkey-like neck in order to provide us all with some light relief.
Newman understands instinctively that in this age of economic instability, global violence and shifting social mores, what the common person needs to brighten the horizons is someone to point and laugh at.
“I will be that person,” says Sammy, and he is as good as his word.
You have to admire his bravery, his willingness to go against popular fashion and defy conventional wisdom. Many have said that The Footy Show‘s brand of humour is past its use-by date – and it was 1993 when they said it – but even as the world turns and the human race evolves, Sam Newman says “not for me, thanks” and sticks to what he knows, deep in his chalky bones, works.
The recent kerfuffle over certain AFL club presidents and their frustration at women writing about football without asking permission first only highlights the Newman genius. Because where others back down, Sammy doubles down. Where others retreat, Sammy advances. Where others concede their opponents might have a point, Sammy calls his opponents excrement. Where others give in to political correctness, Sammy gets a facelift.
He is a breath of fresh air in a media landscape that has become suffocated by politeness and decency.
And he does it from a position of authority and knowledge. After all, let’s not forget his stellar career in football: although I’m pretty sure he has. Sam Newman played 300 games for Geelong, and even then was noted for his courage and refusal to accept humourless Puritanism in ruck contests.
Many folk are no doubt angry at Newman’s most recent comments, which just goes to show that many folk have heard Newman’s most recent comments, so who’s the real fool here? But I’ll bet you that 95 per cent of those furious at Newman right now have also been furious at him in the past, which is clear evidence of bias.
Because at the end of the day, what did Newman say that was so offensive? That Caroline Wilson could talk underwater? If anything that’s a compliment: anyone who has read Aquaman has yearned to one day gain the power of underwater speech. That people who disagree with him are excrement? Sure, that sounds harsh, but it’s not like it’s coming from a place of ignorance: nobody working in television today is a greater expert on excrement than Sam Newman.
This isn’t to say that you need to agree with Sam about Caroline Wilson, or Eddie McGuire, or excrement, or the correct definition of the word ‘cajole’. There is nothing healthier than robust yet respectful argument in the public sphere, a principle Newman himself has always adhered to. Feel free to disagree all you like.
Just know that speech has consequences. Newman does: he is quite aware that every time he speaks, he gives more ammunition to everyone who finds the elderly hilarious. But he does it anyway; in the face of opposition, irrelevance, and uncomfortably tight skin, he continues to speak his truth.
And I think that is something to admire. Or if not ‘admire’, exactly, it is at least something to roll your eyes at.