Gaff’s gaffe: What role do character assessments play in tribunal decisions?

Maddy Friend Columnist

By Maddy Friend, Maddy Friend is a Roar Expert

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    In the wake of Andrew Gaff’s one-hit punch on Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw on Sunday afternoon, the football world was lining up to condemn the Eagle for his actions, which left Brayshaw with a broken jaw and four displaced teeth.

    Social media commentary centred around the likely suspension Gaff would receive, but mostly on the extent to which his good character should play a role in his time on the sideline, and in the way the act should be treated by the footy public.

    In the 175 games he’s played, Gaff has never put a foot wrong, both on and off the field. He’s a well-respected player, which makes Sunday’s act all the more difficult to comprehend.

    He hit Brayshaw off the ball, straight to his jaw, with no obvious provocation (not that this excuses his actions) – from what we’ve seen over Gaff’s career, it was an act completely out of character.

    That’s where the debate raging over the introduction of a send-off rule, harsh sanctions, and even possible criminal charges – floated by a Perth lawyer – becomes interesting. At the heart of this debate is to what extent a person’s character should count in both their tribunal sentencing and public perception.

    Condemnation for Gaff’s actions was swift, with the majority arguing that his previous good record should count for nothing, given the severity of Brayshaw’s injuries.

    In the ‘real world’, assessments of character play a role in court cases. Judges take into account the accused’s remorse, as well as their past behaviour, when deciding on an appropriate sentence. For the more horrific crimes, this may not have a massive impact on the outcome, but in many cases, this assessment can reduce a sentence.

    While at the discretion of the judge to decide how much of an impact it has, the principle is there to ensure that people who have shown themselves as decent do not have their life ruined by one misguided act.

    Consideration is also given to the ability of the accused to be rehabilitated, and their likelihood of reoffending – those whose actions were dangerous, but silly, and who are unlikely to reoffend, are often given a less harsh penalty to enable them to serve their time and then move on with their lives.

    In this respect, the AFL’s tribunal system shows that character assessments are inherent in football. Until last season, player’s records were taken into account when deciding on suspension penalties – a player with a previously ‘bad’ record (i.e. one who had been suspended previously) would receive a higher penalty than a player for whom the offence was a first. That was changed by the AFL this season to include fines for lesser offences and misdemeanours, rather than suspensions, and regardless of previous behaviour.

    Andrew Gaff

    Andrew Gaff (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    The precedent for Gaff’s type of actions is six or so weeks – in the Tom Bugg-Callum Mills incident last year, where Bugg’s punch to Mills’ head left the latter with concussion, Bugg was suspended for six matches, with his lawyer arguing that his immediate remorse and guilty plea should play a role in his suspension.

    However, Bugg had a reputation as a serial pest and, having previously been suspended for lesser acts when the Mills incident occurred, public commentary centred around Bugg’s proclivity to be involved in stupid or dangerous on-field acts.

    In Gaff’s tribunal defence last night, his lawyer spent the first ten minutes listing all of Gaff’s sporting and academic achievements, noting that his client had never received a citation of any kind, at any level. Gaff also had ten written character references – yet the public commentary still seems to condemn his actions in rather black and white terms.

    In the end, Gaff received an eight-week suspension, the equal-longest suspension of the past decade, but at the lowest end of the ‘severe’ and ‘intentional’ scale.

    Will this penalty set a precedent, where character considerations are given less weight than the consequence of the act, or the act itself?

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    The Crowd Says (35)

    • August 8th 2018 @ 8:46am
      Billy Mumphrey said | August 8th 2018 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      You’d have to think that if it was Bugg at the tribunal last night then he would have got 12 weeks. Character only comes in to consideration and once Gaff pleaded guilty it was all about length of suspension.

      I think they got it right last night.

      • Roar Pro

        August 8th 2018 @ 4:22pm
        anon said | August 8th 2018 @ 4:22pm | ! Report

        Bugg must have gone to the wrong high school.

    • August 8th 2018 @ 9:04am
      MQ said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Minimal effect.

      Record, nature of strike and consequence of action will remain more important.

    • August 8th 2018 @ 9:54am
      IAP said | August 8th 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      What’s a “one-hit punch”? Or, more to the point, how do you have anything other than a one-hit punch? Wouldn’t a several-hit punch in fact be punches?

      • Roar Guru

        August 8th 2018 @ 2:20pm
        JamesH said | August 8th 2018 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

        Out in the community I think the expression is ‘one-punch attack’.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 8th 2018 @ 10:19am
      Pedro The Fisherman said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      Who cares what Gaff’s Year 5 School Principal thinks anyway? This is about football not education.
      All that matters is what he did on the ground in that instant. It looked to me like he gave the young fellow a full on punch to the jaw, ran on (without remorse at the time it seems) and now he is paying a price.
      8 weeks seems OK (but a few more would have been better). The lifelong stain that Gaff will carry is appropriate. The lifelong medical and mental problems that Brayshaw will probably carry is not (and that is why legal action should be taken against Gaff).
      The only one that should receive any sympathy is Brayshaw and Fremantle FC.
      Gaff should be held up to all young footballers as an example of what not to do when you are frustrated and the consequences of a brain fade.
      Perhaps Gaff’s Year 5 School Principal can use this situation as a life lesson for his current students – teaching them to control their emotions and show respect to others. Perhaps they could emphasise that violence does not win any prizes either.
      Gaff does not deserve any sympathy, whatsoever.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 8th 2018 @ 10:25am
      Seano said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      It made me sick to read that some snotty private school principal wrote a letter for Gaff.

      Like boys from that class of school are somehow better than Dane Swan or Cam Rayner ect.

      The afl better watch out it doesn’t turn into union.

      • August 8th 2018 @ 11:41am
        truetigerfan said | August 8th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        I sincerely hope you are never called up for jury duty!

        • Roar Rookie

          August 8th 2018 @ 7:27pm
          Mattician6x6 said | August 8th 2018 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

          Unfortunately ttf it seems you and I are among the few that has a rounded understanding of society and the mechanism in place to keep it civil, we also seem to be the only ones with an understanding of combative sports and how a person may react.
          Watching the incensed attitudes soften today has been hilarious as have reading views disparaging of the victims father’s own considered statements.
          I look forward to watching the mighty wce play the Richmond tigers in the gf mate, that is something you and I should consider comfortable at this point of the season.

      • August 8th 2018 @ 12:24pm
        IAP said | August 8th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        That’s what happens when lawyers get involved with footy. They should be banned from the tribunal.

    • Roar Guru

      August 8th 2018 @ 10:46am
      Rick Disnick said | August 8th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

      If this was sent to a jury, and I was on it, I would have given him 8-weeks given the evidence, the circumstances and his character. The AFL Tribunal, I believe, has judged this one right.

      In this instance: it is of my belief that Gaff intentionally punched Brayshaw. However, there is enough doubt around whether he deliberately tried to hit him in the head as opposed to his chest. This is where character comes into play. If the Tribunal felt he intentionally tried to punch Brayshaw in the head, he probably gets 12-16 weeks, and rightfully so.

      Gaff’s character references, previous AFL record and level of remorse following the incident have saved him from a far lengthier suspension.

      Character assessments should always play a role in tribunal decisions.

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