The first thing one needs to remember about James Hird is simple: he is human.
He feels things, like the rest of us. He has instincts, and these instincts become thoughts, and these thoughts become feelings and these feelings become states of existence. The process in between is long, complicated, and unique to all of us.
The second thing one needs to remember about James Hird is that he is a legend of the great game of Australian rules football.
This second one is a where the problems start. Hird’s 253 games, 343 goals, one Brownlow, one Norm Smith and two Premiership flags (one as captain) afford him some grace as a legend of our game.
No one can (although many will) doubt his contribution to football is overall a positive one. Despite the 2012 supplements saga, the man’s contribution to bringing thousands of then-young Essendon fans into the game, his ability to showcase his talents on the grandest of stages, in the most adverse of times, means his status as a playing legend of the game should not be diminished.
Even for non-Essendon supporter, Hird has produced memories and a contribution by simply picking up the oval ball that few can forget.
Yet, it is his status as a footballing legend that has left Hird vulnerable to such treatment he has received from the football public and, in particular, the media, in the wake of the ‘Essendon 34’ supplements scandal that has rocked the AFL for the past four years.
Treatment that only came to a head when Hird was admitted to hospital in a suspected deliberate overdose attempt last week.
The treatment in question, first and foremost, is not acceptable. The personal attacks on radio stations and TV networks, the loaded ‘attack-dog’ interviews, and, most damagingly, the media campouts in front of his family home.
At the very least, the Hird’s shocking health scare has ignited a slow-burning debate about the privacy of the celebrity individual the effect media treatment has on their lives. Andrew Maher, the prominent football journalist, recently tweeted “Ok. Media’s copping a hiding. Lot of media folk follow here. Not all support home camp-outs. RT if you want this invasive tactic to stop.”
Media's copping a hiding.
Lot of media folk follow here.
Not all support home camp-outs.
RT if you want this invasive tactic to stop.
— Andy Maher (@AndyMaherDFA) January 5, 2017
Although the tweet itself was another example of laziness society is experiencing in the age of social media – Maher would’ve done well to call and influence those in the industry who authorise or participate in such abhorrent practice – camp-outs and other such invasions into the affairs of the private citizen are a topic many people in the media debate upon.
The idea of newsworthiness versus privacy infringements is simply a case-by-case issue. Yet most media organisations showed an appalling lack of judgement with Hird.
Not once did anyone consider the mental health of the individual who has been rightly or wrongly chastised for overseeing a program which, at the very base of it, cheated in a sports competition (with respect to the players, who’s health appears fine now, but this may change).
The outcome of such a competition, and by extension the integrity of it, is not likely to significantly alter the lives of anyone other than those involved in it. This means that it’s not worth a human life, or the nature of its existence.
Hird has a right to privacy, and his family certainly have a right not to wake up and see pictures of their own home and words which have often borderlined on straight-up abuse, about their husband, their father, their son or their friend.
The players at Essendon have a right to have a grievance with Hird himself. They have chosen not to play this out in public, if at all. This does not give the media the right to pick up the slack.
Of course, this is not to suggest Hird should be cleared of wrongdoing. He endangered the health of 34 young and vulnerable high-performance and pressurised professionals, who entrusted their safety to a club he (publicly, at least) led.
Surely, however, the issue is beyond that now. Surely it was beyond that when Hird fell on his sword over a year ago, and disappeared from the public light. Surely the issue at play was between Essendon, Hird and the AFL – which has been sickeningly weak and slow to support Hird in his hour of need – and still is between those three. Just because it’s the AFL does not mean its anyone else’s business.
What is newsworthy or not, what the public wants to know, and, most sickeningly but unfortunately seemingly most prevalently, what sells adspace and newspapers, should not become a burden on a citizen.
Just because the public wants to know doesn’t mean they have to know. Hopefully people, and most importantly the media, will finally wake up to this. It’ll cost society dearly if they don’t.
After all, people like Hird are human. They feel things.