It’s not personal James, it’s just business

Snert Underpant Roar Rookie

By Snert Underpant, Snert Underpant is a Roar Rookie

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    James Hird during his days as Essendon coach. (Photo: Craig Golding)

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    Although millions of words have been written over the past four years about Essendon and James Hird, very few have alluded to what is a very simple truth.

    With the staggering television rights deals we now have in place, our beloved footy has become a huge business. While we understand why this has happened, it is easy to forget sometimes why businesses exist and how they operate.

    The AFL as a corporation has grown massively in a relatively short period of time. Through the salary cap and the draft, it has created a situation where teams are less likely (in theory) to dominate for long periods of time and have a more realistic chance of short-term success than ever before.

    Which, in turn, creates higher expectations from team supporters.

    In any competitive environment, everyone is looking for an edge. So with teams becoming more evenly matched, it’s the one percenters that might put one ahead of the rest. More than ever before, clubs need to be creative, but are working on a far more even playing field.

    Our game is built on courage, skills, endurance and strength. While courage can’t be taught, the other three can all be improved with knowledge and science. Players are often selected on body types which can be manipulated and improved to fill a role. Like test pilots, coaches will push the envelope with the aim of getting a player’s performance to its maximum level without breaking. Like test pilots, sometimes they push too far.

    History shows us that great players don’t necessarily make great coaches. James Hird was a courageous, skilful footballer who was thrust into a role with no previous experience but huge expectation. I don’t think for a moment he believed his players were being injected with anything illegal. But in his passionate desire to succeed, he clearly placed too much faith in those he shouldn’t have.

    Hird has admitted he should have asked more questions. But his biggest problem throughout the whole saga was that he failed to realise he was operating within a business environment.

    He damaged the AFL brand, so the AFL needed a head on a platter. He damaged the Essendon brand and while Essendon showed support, they ultimately also made a business decision that while he was there they couldn’t move forward. It wasn’t personal, it was just business.

    Australians are familiar with the Azaria Chamberlain dingo story. In an interview in 2014, Michael Chamberlain, who had also endured years of personal attacks and vitriol from the public and media, made the following statement:

    “We had lived by the credo that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. It was dead wrong.”

    I’m sure that’s what Hird thought too.

    But the simple truth is that we live in a world driven by success and dollars. Which creates pressure. Which can lead to mistakes, especially for the inexperienced. The football world is part of that. When there is failure, there will be blame, which means casualties.

    The world is full of James Hirds. Many are people who find their lives have changed forever due to technology, an accident, an error of judgement or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we don’t generally hear about them.

    But when a person with a young family who was so revered and had so much of what we call ‘success’ finds himself in a situation where he is prepared to take his own life at 43, maybe that’s a bigger picture we should be talking about.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • January 11th 2017 @ 10:29am
      Republican said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      Exactly – its just business and this is exactly why the contagion of sport, money, has rendered it oxymoronic in respect of any social or cultural virtue.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 11:37am
        Paul said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        ‘But his biggest problem throughout the whole saga was that he failed to realise he was operating within a business environment.’ Actually disagree with you here, he accepted that he was in a business as is evidenced by his referring to the organisational structures at Essendon at that point in time. He answered to Hamiltion as did Robinson, Hird had no authority over Robinson! The problem for Hird was that he thought Evans would support him – in essence he got the office politics wrong! Hamiltion and then Little fell into line with the AFL, leaving Hird, Thompson and Reid out to dry, now none of us know what pressure was brought to bear on the Essendon club but one would think it must have been immense.

        • January 11th 2017 @ 10:09pm
          Reservoir Animal said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:09pm | ! Report

          “Hird had no authority over Robinson”

          If that was the case then Hird should have refused to continue in the senior coaching role and resigned.

          How senior is a coach that can’t control what happens underneath him?

        • Roar Rookie

          January 12th 2017 @ 9:42am
          Lamby said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

          “Hird had no authority over Robinson”

          One word from Hird and the program would have stopped.

          But instead it seems (from txt messages) Hird was the one who got Ried out of the way of the program.

          • January 12th 2017 @ 12:56pm
            anon said | January 12th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report


            And if we are to believe that Hird had no authority, then the text messages from Dank should have served as a giant red flag for Hird.

            There was nothing to stop Hird being a whistle blower and taking his evidence in the form of text messages straight to the Essendon board. That’s if the player’s welfare was Hird’s primary concern as he has said all along.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 11:29am
      mdso said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      The unseen danger of this sporting and indeed many, winning becomes everything, fame, fortune and kudos. Premierships are the aim of the game. People become things and are expendable. Perform and measure up and in supermarket style players out live their use by date and its next in line please. There is no shortage of want to be’s waiting in line.

      The AFL has shown its to be a ruthless employer and virtually owns and controls both the clubs and the players. Whilst the organisation does good works in the Community and it creates stars who are given god like status, its superficial and impermanent.
      The rise up the ladder and the slide down for most is a few years.

      No, itd not personal but its very personal when its your turn, to be turned over.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 11:43am
      Rob said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      I’m sure that when, as a coach he destroyed players lifelong dreams by cutting them from the team/club he said just the same thing.

      High level sport is a cut throat environment and when you push the edges like he did, the fall from going over can be terrible.

      That said, the is still the human element, and as much as I despise cheating such as he has been found to have done, I still care that the person recovers and goes on to lead as happy and productive a life as he can.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 7:07pm
        Pumping Dougie said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

        Spot on.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 1:11pm
      aw said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

      With huge salaries and short term contracts no one has a right to any job. Perform poorly and you’re out. Also sometimes the job will just pass you by for reasons beyond your control.
      But at the end of the day you got paid a huge salary while it lasted.
      The problem here is Hird expected it to last forever, or for his reputation to entitle him to future earnings.
      Many people find themselves redundant or out of work. Retrain and go again as they have to.
      He dragged his own name through the mud by chasing court case after court case and refusing to let it go. Originally the blame was all Dank and Hird was just suspended for poor governance. He could have recovered from that.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 1:23pm
        Paul said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

        Aw not sure how you reach the conclusion that Hird expected it to last forever! Can you please explain your logic? How does going to court drag your name through the mud? Had a friend charged on a serious crime and I can assure you that being found not guilty did not help him, the problem was that there was not evidence to sustain the charge but the media had already found him guilty! this seems fairly similar to Hird, as he was not mentioned in the case by wada or asda! The poor governance had nothing to with Hird, as he was not responsible for the operation and implementation of the plan…. that was under the organisational structure the responsibility of the manager of the football department and then the CEO! The club was certainly responsible for poor governance but Hird was found guilty along with Thompson and Reid for bringing the game into disrepute! How this was so is difficult to fathom!

        • January 11th 2017 @ 1:51pm
          aw said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

          My point is, were not here discussing Thompson or Reid, or the Cronulla coach or anyone from Cronulla. Because they took responsibility and accepted their terminations. Their reputations are still pretty good as they all have work again.

          Hird couldn’t accept any responsibility and thought he was owed more. He took it to court and encouraged the players to fight on, and he’s suffering for it.
          Now he’s upset he can’t find work anywhere. Well he took a moderate problem and turned it into a farce.

          • January 11th 2017 @ 7:13pm
            Pumping Dougie said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:13pm | ! Report

            I agree with you on Thompson but not Reid. He refused to accept any responsibility and the AFL went soft on him. He protested against the drugs regime internally within the club, but he didn’t share his misgivings with the players, who might have trusted his judgement and relied on his professionalism – I think Reid let his players down. Unfortunately, he chose to put the club ahead of the individuals. I think Reid’s reputation has been tarnished considerably, although at least he formallised his views strongly internally (and was ignored! Go figure).

            • January 12th 2017 @ 1:10pm
              Gecko said | January 12th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

              Dougie how do you know Reid ‘didn’t share his misgivings with the players’? Were you expecting that Reid should have written letters to the players? I think it’s highly likely that some Essendon players would have sought Reid’s opinion and Reid probably only gave a vaguely cautious response. But we just don’t know what he said to players, so we may need to wait for more evidence before we pass judgement.

        • January 11th 2017 @ 10:12pm
          Reservoir Animal said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

          “The poor governance had nothing to with Hird, as he was not responsible for the operation and implementation of the plan”

          “I’m the senior coach but I’m not responsible” is just absurd. In 120 years of VFL/AFL football the biggest constant has been that the buck stops with the senior coach. Nobody should accept a senior coaching role if the buck won’t stop with them.

    • Roar Guru

      January 11th 2017 @ 1:33pm
      delbeato said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

      I suspect part of the problem here is that this sort of case is relatively new to the AFL. As a cycling fan, I’ve witnessed it play out in that sport numerous times. My impression is that the AFL – players, team administrators, fans – did not properly appreciate the gravity of the case against EFC until a long time after it broke. I had numerous discussions and debates with friends and family, saying to them “this is the WADA code, this is serious, EFC are in real trouble here I reckon” at an early point in the process. Overwhelmingly, the response was “nah, it will blow over” or “EFC is too big to fail”. WADA doesn’t work that way – they don’t care if footy is an institution here.

      I wonder if that growing realisation that this wasn’t going away and the slow change in public attitude away from supporting EFC and Hird made the impact even worse. I always admired the way Hird played the game, he remains an AFL legend. But it was a long fall from that high perch.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 1:41pm
      Birdman said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

      Could it be that James stayed around and fought so long that he was the only one left at the club who could carry the blame much of which was deserved.

      Robson, Evans, Hamilton, Robinson, Dank, Corcoran had already left the building before the final CAS verdict.

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