Hey AFL, spare us the Little Britain apologies please

Geoff Parkes Columnist

By Geoff Parkes, Geoff Parkes is a Roar Expert


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    In the acclaimed Little Britain comedy series there is a recurring skit where various English dignitaries front up to a hungry press pack outside the gates of their homes, and deliver grave apologies for their sexual indiscretions – all with humiliated wife and children standing alongside.

    It’s excruciating enough even when you know it’s fake, which makes the AFL’s recent predilection for the public mea culpa all the harder to stomach; particularly when it is grounded in pompous, twisted logic and gross hypocrisy.

    On Friday it was the turn of AFL Football Operations Manager Simon Lethlean and Commercial Operations General Manager Richard Simkiss to be publicly shamed, Little Britain style, for conducting inappropriate relationships with female co-workers, resulting in them both submitting their resignations.

    The comments of both men are revealing.

    Lethlean: “I have hurt the people who are most important in my life and who I love. They have done nothing to deserve this. I am deeply sorry for all the hurt and embarrassment I have caused.”

    Simkiss: “My actions did not live up to the values of the AFL and is something I am truly sorry for.”

    I have no doubt that Lethlean’s statement is true and his apology contrite. But why was it being made in the public domain? Why was this not a matter for Lethlean, his wife and family to sort out in private?

    Beyond salacious gossip value, what is gained from both men splashing their personal shame all over the media?

    One answer is that these public apologies are reflective of the AFL’s bloated sense of self-importance. In the bubble that is AFL and the deferential Melbourne press, these indiscretions are newsworthy in the same way that Bill Clinton, Silvio Berlusconi and JFK’s similar indiscretions were deemed of national, and international, interest. But outside of that bubble, in the real world?

    As for these actions not living up to the values of the AFL, one can only assume that Simkiss is referencing AFL Chief Gillon McLachlan, who said in response to the resignations; “The AFL that I want to lead is a professional organisation based on integrity, respect, care for each other and responsibility. We are committed to a process of change and I am confident change is being seen and felt throughout our industry.”

    What change is that exactly? Is McLachlan referring to the AFL’s push to embrace women, in increasing numbers, as participants and followers of the game – all entirely admirable – or his he talking about change in the context that the AFL is an employer that will no longer tolerate any of its employees conducting an extra–marital affair? Or is that only its male employees?

    AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    In certain professions there are conventions that must be observed. Doctors cannot form personal relationships with their patients. Teachers and lecturers with their students. Male and female alike.

    In the corporate world there is no such hard line. Many companies have codes of conduct that address this and, while they are essentially unenforceable at law, they at least serve as counsel for people in management positions to think carefully about the implications of any potential action on their part, and how this may affect harmony and performance in the workplace. Of itself, that is no bad thing.

    If the AFL is one of those workplaces, then that is their prerogative, and it is easy to understand why McLachlan would be angry and disappointed at the actions of his senior executives. But at the same time, many people will be thinking of their own workplace, their own circle of friends and acquaintances, and be able to reel off numerous examples of workplace relationships, open and illicit, bosses and co-workers, permanent and fleeting.

    Such is the reality of life.

    Accordingly it seems what we are talking here about is the difference between what actually is society’s norm and what McLachlan’s idealistic view of what the social norm should be.

    Initial reports on ABC Radio on Friday emphasised that both men had been involved in inappropriate relationships with co-workers who were younger than them. The inference was unmissable; here were men in positions of power, preying upon co-workers of lesser status.

    Young women. An interesting emphasis, if not intended to imply that if the women involved were the same age as the men, or older, it would make the situation different, then what exactly?

    There is nothing in any of the public statements to indicate either of the men has failed to perform their duties. Indeed, when questioned on the matter ex-Bulldogs Vice-President Susan Alberti, a leading female figure in the game provided a glowing public reference for the work of Lethlean.

    Neither has any question been raised about their actions involving anything non-consensual or offensive. If there was, then certainly, throw the book at them – hard. Indeed, throw two books at them; one at the head and one you know where.

    Alberti is one of many who praises the McLachlan and the AFL for improving the culture around respect and engagement with women. No reasonable person would deny this as a positive for the game.

    But is this justification for McLachlan and the AFL conducting a moral crusade? Frankly it smacks of over-earnestness, primed by a desire to position the AFL brand squarely where all the optics align with a shop front that is politically correct and socially just.

    Spare me a moment while I try to hose all the hypocrisy away.

    The AFL’s main media partner is the Seven Network, the CEO of which is Tim Worner. The same Tim Worner who has gone through a recent public shaming of his own, seemingly finding it difficult to keep his trousers on when in the company of female co-workers.

    There are some interesting differences between the case of Worner and Lethlean and Simkiss. One is that Worner, a married man, is accused of conducting not one, but no less than four workplace affairs, all with women younger than himself.

    The other difference is that, rather than apologise and resign as Lethlean and Simkiss have done, Worner has dug in. He has powerful allies on his board who have enormous influence and cash reserves. Perhaps he knows too much. Or perhaps that’s just what mates with real power and influence over women can do. Look the other way, lawyer up and ride it out.

    It’s Worner’s prerogative of course, but clearly his actions, and those of his backers on the board of Seven display values which are the polar opposite of those of the AFL as espoused by McLachlan.

    In the public view, McLachlan’s social justice crusade is in full swing, Lethlean and Simkiss collateral damage for slipping below the standards required.

    Out of public view however, McLachlan counts Seven’s money. Every moral crusade it seems, has its boundaries.

    Picture McLachlan behind a computer at his desk, tapping away until he is interrupted by a woman who queries him as to the inconsistency in applying certain standards on one hand, and tacitly condoning the opposite on the other.

    “Will the AFL be reviewing its relationship with the Seven Network and either demanding the resignation of its Chief Executive, or withdrawing from its commercial arrangement with Seven because of a profound clash of values?”

    McLachlan, glances at his monitor, before looking back at his questioner. “Computer says no.”

    Geoff Parkes
    Geoff Parkes

    Geoff is a Melbourne-based sports fanatic and writer who started contributing to The Roar in 2012 under the pen name Allanthus. His first book, A World in Union Conflict; The Global Battle For Rugby Supremacy, was released in December 2017 to critical acclaim. For details on the book visit www.geoffparkes.com. Meanwhile, his twin goals of achieving a single figure golf handicap and owning a fast racehorse remain tantalisingly out of reach.

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    The Crowd Says (88)

    • July 16th 2017 @ 6:40am
      Pauly said | July 16th 2017 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      State of Origin and Arsenal’s Sydney tour this week. Final round if Super Rugby as well.

      The AFL will do just about anything to stay in the news.

      This isn’t surprising.

    • July 16th 2017 @ 7:22am
      Rob Bruemmer said | July 16th 2017 @ 7:22am | ! Report

      Well argumented. However if these rules imposed are in their signed employment contract, they’ve breached the contract.
      I do understand what you are saying in regards to the Utopia they are striving for. “IMPOSSIBLE”

      • Columnist

        July 16th 2017 @ 12:26pm
        Geoff Parkes said | July 16th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

        Rob, Gil McLachlan has acknowledged that there was nothing in these two men’s employment contracts specifically relevant to these events.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 9:56am
        Tony said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        Any such clause would be unenforceable. Employment contracts can’t dictate employee’s love lives.

    • July 16th 2017 @ 8:21am
      Paul Mckay said | July 16th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Presumably the adult women here knew the family status of the men. They too made similarly poor choices. What is their employment status? What account are they held to? Does ignoring their role disrespect and infantalise them?

      • July 16th 2017 @ 9:11am
        Agent11 said | July 16th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        woman are always victims, always

        • Roar Guru

          July 17th 2017 @ 11:31am
          Penster said | July 17th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

          Really? Is it too much for your pea brain to work out that this isn’t a gender issue but (ostensibly) a misuse of power issue? If the Executive had been female having relations with a subordinate, same yardstick would be expected to apply.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 10:00am
        Tony said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        I don’t think it has anything to do with the women. It has more to do with the fishbowl that the AFL operates in re: the Melbourne media. In the terms of tabloid press the blokes, Leathlean particularly, were compromised. Rather than ride a half-baked scandal out, Gil cut them loose.

        Caving into tabloid pressure isn’t my idea of advancing social justice.

        • Roar Guru

          July 17th 2017 @ 12:48pm
          Paul D said | July 17th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

          What tabloid pressure? The first the tabloids knew of it was when McLachlan announced their sackings.

          Bunkering down and tacitly backing executives who bang employees isn’t my idea of advancing social justice either

          • July 17th 2017 @ 1:43pm
            Tony said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            There was an article last Monday alluding to it without naming names I believe. Tongues were wagging.

    • July 16th 2017 @ 8:33am
      Bib said | July 16th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      After the rumours Beale spread about Ewen McKenzie, I do find all this a bit comical

    • July 16th 2017 @ 8:41am
      bobburra said | July 16th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      In no way am I defending the AFL duo, their actions of course are unacceptable, however as the old saying goes “it takes two to tango”. The women involved more than likely knew of the guys’ maritial status and still maintained a relationship, no matter how fleeting. Now don’t think that I “calling out ” these women, their names & positions are not mentioned in all the media, but it seems the man is the wrongdoer in all aspects. The blame, in my opinion, should be shared equally by both sexes, and as such both sexes suffer the penalties. Have the women concerned lost their jobs?, or are they to be pitied on as “poor me” and treated as victims?. Why, there were the party in the relationships?
      Did they go to the same “briefings” as the men, or does respect & responsibilty on apply to the male of the species?
      Your mention of Tim Worner at 7 is apt, I for one thought he should have been sacked, just goes to show how the ‘boys club” still prevails in some areas.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 4:12pm
        Kate said | July 17th 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

        I completely agree. This is not a situation where the women were harassed, they consented to these relationships equally and are 50% to blame. Not sure what is in the men’s contracts and I get that the scrutiny is clearly on them, but should it be? Affairs are everywhere, why this even needed to be in the media is beyond me. no regular person would lose their job. And I can guarantee we won’t her any women’s groups calling for equality in the women being sacked.

    • July 16th 2017 @ 9:12am
      The Original Buzz said | July 16th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

      One question – did the women involved resign as well? We bang on about equal rights and everyone being treated equally but it never happens, hypocritical Gil, not good enough.