The horror. Oh, the horror.
I refer to the allegations made by the unnamed Indigenous player from Hawthorn that his then-coach, Alastair Clarkson, tried to pressure him to terminate the pregnancy of his partner and leave her to help his football. Clarkson denies it, and an investigation will soon be under way.
It has shaken to its core the club, the AFL, and even Australia, and rightly so. More details will soon surely emerge. If proven, it will forever stand as a horrific example of how sport and people can completely lose their way when winning at all costs is put into practice. If proven, it is a stain on Australia that such a thing could still be happening in the second decade of the 21st century – and all in a professional environment that is meant to be at the forefront of care.
Where to from here?
On the issue of racism in the AFL, no one has more credibility or more respect than Adam Goodes – and none have more experience in suffering it in the public domain. No one has displayed more courage in standing up to it. There is no one that Indigenous players would be more likely to open up to than Goodes.
Sadly, no one is better placed to unpack the AFL’s racism issues than Adam Goodes.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
If Goodes was willing, the AFL should give him a staff and free rein to follow Eddie Betts’ suggestion and investigate not just Hawthorn but the entire AFL playing environment for Indigenous players. The results may well be ugly, but it is only exposure that will fix it.
For now, we reel.
The horror. Oh, the horror.
Mario’s biggest test
You will recall, perhaps, that scene in Dead Poet’s Society where the charismatic teacher, played by Robin Williams, gathers his students around an old black-and-white photo of former students in a cabinet display and takes on their ghostly voice in a whisper: “Carpe diem … carpe diem … seize the days, boys, seize the day.” The theme was to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way, because such times will not come again…
Sunday night’s Spotlight program on Channel Seven was a kind of reverse carpe diem, a close-up profile by Michael Usher of the great rugby league player, Mario Fenech, who was known as “Test Match” because he treated every game as such, throwing himself at everything, shrugging off all concussions and just keeping on going.
The results of that approach 25 years later were simply devastating. With great courage, Fenech and his wife, Rebecca, opened their lives to the cameras.
Fenech, simply, is badly brain-damaged and, despite only being 60, has the atrophied brain – according to Rowena Mobbs of Macquarie University – of an “80-year-old” with Alzheimer’s or the like.
He remembers little, not even his son’s joyous wedding the day before. He has a carer who looks after him two days a week and takes him on excursions with others with dementia. His fine and loving wife must do everything for him, including shaving, and it is only a matter of time before he will have to be put in a home. At 60.
Mario Fenech in his glory days for Souths. Credit:Fairfax Media
If there has been sadder footage of a famous Australian sportsperson in recent times, I have not seen it, and it should be compulsory viewing for all those current players, coaches and administrators who continue to take a cavalier approach to concussions, and never more so than when finals are on, because, you know, it is just so important that they get back out there despite recent concussions.
Lean in, boys … lean in…
Mario Fenech is speaking to you.
Non … carpe diem … non carpe diem…
Do not seize the day. Look after your brains, now, or risk condemning yourselves and your families to that purgatory.
A head for business
If you missed it, TFF interviewed the world’s leading concussion advocate, Chris Nowinski, last week for my Sunday Five Minutes with Fitz column and we had this exchange:
Fitz: “Luke Keary, the Roosters five-eighth with a long history of concussions, said last week it is crazy that the NRL doesn’t have limits on full contact training like the NFL does.”
Nowinski: “I agree completely. Full contact is dangerous. It causes lots of injuries, and we specifically now know it will contribute to CTE risk and it will cause more concussions. And, beyond the moral angle, there is the business perspective. The NFL and the NRL at the pro level are in the entertainment business. To be injuring your players when no one’s watching anyway, and you’re not making any money, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Fascinating, yes? And that business angle offers a new perspective that has so far had little headway – pardon the pun – in Australia. But doesn’t it make sense. Yes, the greatest driving force in the way the game is shaped is the dollar. So why injure your employees in this manner, when there are no cameras and you are not even making any money out of it? Nowinski also said the Rugby League Players Association should make limiting full-contact practice one of their top priorities, and I entirely agree.
DeForest for de trees
Love this. Last week in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner mixed his metaphors after a bad loss. Say it again, if you would, DeForest?
“We got our ass whooped. We have to come in tomorrow, take it on the chin and grow from this.”
DeForest Buckner’s team may have lost but he has earned a nomination for the prestigious mixed metaphor category.Credit:Getty
Lovely, yes, and an early leader for TFF’s mixed metaphor comp? It actually reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s famous remark when one of his blowhard Civil War generals, John Pope, signed a dispatch, with the rather pompous words: “Headquarters in the saddle.”
“That’s the trouble with Pope,” Lincoln said to his cabinet. “He’s got his headquarters where his hindquarters ought to be.”
Speaking of which …
There are really strange sports stories, there are truly weird sports stories, and then… ? Then there is the current blow-up in the chess world, where the incumbent world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has implied, if not saying directly, that his challenger Hans Niemann is cheating.
Hans Niemann is at the centre of a brewing controversy in … chess. Yes, chess.
How could Niemann be cheating? Are you ready for this?
Brace, yourself. It’s not pretty.
“One of the most popular theories doing the rounds,” the Herald story ran on Wednesday, “propelled by Elon Musk, is that Niemann was using wireless vibrating anal beads to read signals from a computer chess engine, like Stockfish, about what moves he should make.”
The mind boggles. And of course, not just the mind …
If you know what vibrating anal beads are in the first place, and how they could send signals to move the knight to King 4, or somesuch, please keep it to yourself.
The rest of us are going out, and should be some time.
What they said
An unnamed Indigenous player, alleging, according to the ABC, that his then coach at Hawthorn, Alastair Clarkson, pressured him to leave his partner and terminate her pregnancy to help his football: “Clarkson just leaned over me and demanded that I needed to get rid of my unborn child and my partner. He told me to kill my unborn kid.”
Clarkson in his statement responding to the allegations: “I was not afforded any due process and I refute any allegation of wrongdoing or misconduct and look forward to the opportunity to be heard as part of the AFL external investigation.”
Buddy Franklin on signing on to the Swans for another season: “There’s been a lot of knockers over the years, haven’t there? When I first got here people were knocking that I wouldn’t get there, I wouldn’t make it. I’d play for four or five years and that would be it. So, I’ve definitely proved them wrong, haven’t I?” He has. But, by Gawd, I resemble that remark!
Melbourne Demons star Christian Petracca on the Brownlow coverage after the AFL boss Gillon McLachlan continually mispronounced his surname as “Petracka”: “It’s Petracca for f..k’s sake.”
Unimpressed Republican Chip Roy of Texas, who met Greg Norman while the golfer was spruiking LIV Golf in Washington, DC: “Don’t come in here and act like you’re doing some great thing while you’re pimping a billion dollars of Saudi Arabian money.”
The Socceroos’ “Grey Wiggle”, Andrew Redmayne.Credit:Network 10
Socceroos goalie Andrew Redmayne on shooting a segment with The Wiggles to become the Grey Wiggle: “It’s on 24/7 at our house at the moment. I knew all the dance moves and the words. Was second nature!”
Collingwood coach Craig McRae after their one-point loss to the Swans: “Winners don’t think ‘what if’ and ‘if only’. Winners pick themselves up and use the lessons and get better and use it for motivation.” Gawd, I love that kinda talk!
Carlton’s Patrick Cripps on winning the Brownlow Medal: “I loved footy growing up as a kid, and I still remember being at boarding school back in WA, and I used to always ask my mum, ‘Make sure you sign me out, give me leave on Brownlow night’, because I used to love watching it.”
Joe Fenech, son of 60-year-old Mario, who was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago: “The really sad part of this story is that when my parents woke up in the morning, the day after [my] wedding, my dad turned to my mum and said, ‘Oh, I’m really excited for the wedding, when is it?’.”
Dale Finucane leaves nothing on the field.Credit:NRL Photos
Cronulla prop Braden Hamlin-Uele on his teammates: “Have you seen the way Dale [Finucane] and Cam [McInnes] play? They just do not give a crap about their bodies. They play for the team. Their whole mentality is team first, and then me. Cam’s got no teeth left, I mean honestly.”
Linus Bylund, chief of staff for the Sweden Democrats – a party with Nazi origins – has been bitterly critical of journalists for the national public service broadcaster, saying they are enemies of the nation who ought to be “punished”. After a recent good electoral result he was asked what he now looked forward to and replied: “Journalist-rugby.”
Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel in Wollongong for the 2022 UCI Road World Championships on dealing with swooping magpies on a training ride: “A fairly large bird came very close and it just kept following me. It was terrifying. But that’s Australia, apparently. I hope it’s the only time it happens, but I am afraid of it.”
Team of the Week
Lauren Jackson. Australia’s answer to Michael Jordan has rejoined the Opals squad for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which is taking place in Sydney as we speak.
Sydney Swans. Into the grand final in their 40th year in Sydney. It is also their third decider in the nine-year era of Buddy Franklin. Only Richmond have played in as many over that time. Franklin announced a one-year extension this week to make it a neat decade. (Thank you, yes, I know!)
Australian Davis Cup team. Won through to the finals in November. (I know. I, too, was barely aware it was on.)
Wallabies. Take on the All Blacks on Saturday afternoon.
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