The invitation extended by the AFL to James Hird, and Hird’s acceptance, to present the Norm Smith Medal at this year’s 2017 AFL grand final could be one of the worst public relation exercises in living memory.
The AFL, by inviting Hird to present the medal, has dug a large hole for itself and must be desperately hoping that it won’t fall into it.
As head coach of the Essendon football club during the time of the banned ‘2012 supplements program’, Hird was suspended for the entire 2014 season. Furthermore, 34 current and former Essendon players were suspended for the 2016 season, and the club was club fined $2 million, disallowed draft picks and barred from the 2013 finals series “for bringing the game into disrepute”.
The saga culminated in Jobe Watson handing back his 2012 Brownlow Medal.
Justifying the invitation by citing some recently discovered method of selection, the AFL will be flat out attempting to explain away to the worldwide viewing audience if the reception from the MCG crowd is something less than friendly.
James Hird was a great footballer, playing 253 games for Essendon including the 1993 and 2000 grand final victories, and won the Norm Smith medal in 2000. However, it is hard to believe that there won’t be vocal discontent from a significant portion of the crowd, many of whom may well be disillusioned Essendon supporters.
It may well be a far stretched scenario but with both Port Adelaide and Essendon in the final eight, it is possible that one or both teams could play in the grand final. Indeed, they could possibly play against each other.
With that being a possibility, and if (say) Port Adelaide’s Paddie Ryder or Essendon’s Jobe Watson or any other of the Essendon players that were suspended for the 2016 season were to win the Norm Smith Medal, what an embarrassing moment it would be for the AFL if any of those players chose not to accept the medal from Hird.