On Saturday, south-east Queensland will play host to two classic AFL grand final match-ups from the noughties.
So as happenstance would have it, two of the most fascinating things about last weekend’s round of AFL happened in the same match, and both involved the same player – Dane Rampe.
I think this coincidence is significant, because the AFL’s actions after the two incidents revealed a consistency in desire to portray a certain image to the public, but a total inconsistency in their definitiveness.
The two incidents that caused controversy were very different, as was the way the AFL dealt with them. After the siren on Friday night at the SCG, Essendon’s David Myers had a shot from a probably unrealistic distance to win the Bombers the game.
Before the kick, Rampe ran up, leapt onto one of the goal posts, straddled it for a moment, before the umpire told him to jump down, which he did.
To many, Myers should have been awarded a shot from the goal-line, directly in front, and Essendon would have won the game. This did not happen.
The next day AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the right call had been made, because it was “practical”. This seems problematic, given it appears to be at total odds with the actual laws of the game.
It is, however, consistent with the AFL’s ability to pretend any and every controversial umpiring decision was the correct one. This has become a pattern. Surely, though, had a free kick been paid, and an outrage had ensued, McLachlan would have said the free kick was correct, as it is in the rule book.
Despite the ‘correct’ decision being made, Rampe was given a ‘please explain’ by the AFL and eventually a $1000 fine for that incident. This seems odd, given he apparently broke no rules; as indicated by the no free kick. So, on this topic, the AFL were incredibly inconsistent and vague.
The other issue has been rather confounding as well; that being Rampe’s “little girl” remark to the umpire.
Now, I want to be extremely clear here, I am not excusing demeaning or derogatory remarks towards women, or anyone. But I want to defend Rampe here, and say I don’t believe that’s what he did.
Let’s consider what happened. The umpire called Rampe to play on. Rampe’s action suggests he did not hear the umpire, because he did not play on, then he was tackled and a free kick was paid against him.
What Rampe said was not ideal, but it was also not the same as other tired clichés such as ‘you kick like a girl’, ‘you hit like a girl’ or ‘stop being such a girl’.
What Rampe said, was “I can’t hear that, you talk like a little girl”. It’s worth noting here that most publications on the matter have actually misquoted him.
In the context of what had just happened, it is reasonable to speculate that what he actually meant was he could not hear the umpire, and the implication being that he likely would not have been able to hear a little girl in that situation either.
Perhaps that could be construed as demeaning, but I don’t think to the extent of the backlash he has received.
If we analyse what actually happened, it is clear Rampe never labelled the idea of being a girl as a bad thing. He implied that little girls are quiet.
This is a generalisation, and potentially disrespectful, and he should not have said it, but to be labelled derogatory is extreme.
My issue with these two events is that one of them seems rather clear, while the other is murky, and AFL’s actions were definitive on the wrong one.
Firstly, the umpire needed to pay a free kick for him climbing the post. Labelling it practical umpiring brings into question why the rule even exists in the first place. Practical umpiring is surely an umpire applying the laws of the game.
They should have then simply said the decision was wrong.
On the other issue, the AFL were far clearer. Rampe was given a $10,000 fine, coupled with this statement from AFL football operations boss, Steve Hocking:
“As a senior player in our game, and a captain of his football club, Dane is well aware the derogatory nature of his remarks are completely unacceptable and have no place in our game”.
So, it would seem breaking actual rules can come with nuance, but making questionable remarks are labelled derogatory not matter what.
I want to reiterate, Rampe’s comments were entering dangerous territory, but to label them derogatory and therefore smear his character is unfair.
Fining him such a significant amount, seems to seal the idea he meant them in a derogatory way.
On the Sydney Swans’ website, Rampe explained his belief “being called a girl is something that should be celebrated, and I genuinely mean that”. I think that is a fairer reflection of his character.
Either way, the AFL has once again displayed their ability to control the public narrative, whichever way suits them best.