Date: May 23 2012
IN THE matter of the football media versus Josh Hunt, Chris Scott was saying little yesterday. And in doing so he said plenty.
The rush to ''hang'' Hunt for a perceived lack of courage has highlighted one of the more distasteful consequences of the ever-growing game around the game, where opinions are paid for so must pack a punch. Geelong's coach acknowledged this, but isn't about to join the queue.
''We welcome the external criticisms or otherwise of our performance, but it won't affect the way we handle things internally,'' Scott said.
Asked if he had spoken to Hunt about the slur, he said: ''He needs to know that he has our support, and he knows that unequivocally.''
The Cats have little time for fingerpointing and accusations of ''dogging it'', which one insider yesterday dismissed as ''bullshit bravado''. Internally, the only issue with how Hunt approached a contest late in the first quarter last Friday night was one of decision-making - he should have marked the ball, not tried to slap it away.
Commentators and analysts saw it differently, damning Hunt by citing his ''form'' (stemming from an incident in 2006) in what is regarded as the most unforgivable of footballing sins. It is an uncomfortable irony that the outcry to which Scott refused to contribute comes in a climate of increasing concern that an ever-faster game will inevitably cause an injury far more serious than Marc Murphy's broken shoulder.
''I'm not comfortable with it,'' AFL Players' Association boss Matt Finnis said of the clamour, adding that those who commentate on and analyse the game - and the fans who watch it - could surely be under no illusions as to the intensity and the demands of football in 2012.
''To draw such attention and innuendo around a particular player taking a particular decision at a point in time, really takes that completely out of context, and is such an unfair way to cover the game,'' he said.
Finnis has sensed a more fatalistic approach to description of the game, and fears that it could lead to greater instances of injury ''because of this sense that [as a player] you've got to be pugilistic and almost irresponsible in your disregard for your safety in pursuit of the contest''.
As the only VFL/AFL footballer confined to a wheelchair as the result of an on-field incident, Neil Sachse is well placed to comment on sporting courage. He saw little in what Hunt has been pilloried for, and has no time for the broader rush to hold a player's nerve up to the light.
''These are split-second decisions. If you make the wrong one, and end up like myself, people wouldn't be happy about that either,'' the former Bulldog said.
The AFLPA runs programs for players in their early years designed to build resilience and coping skills, broadening to a sense of identity, where they should take feedback from, and how to manage mental health, wellbeing and anxiety. The assessment that counts comes from within, and as a rule coaches want their players to be brave, not stupid, because they need them to play.
Even if you do take the stance that Hunt ''heard footsteps'', there is a school of thought that how a player conducts himself when confronted by doubt in the heat of battle is a skill, which can be learned and improved. Arguably, it comes more naturally to some; Joel Selwood would doubtless like to kick a football as instinctively as Hunt, too.
In today's football media maelstrom, past players find themselves in an obverse quandary to that faced by commentators who ''haven't played at the highest level''. It is not enough that their CV gives them the right to have an opinion, that view must be combative enough to generate headlines.
On some media covering Friday night's game, the hanging of Hunt began as soon as the ball had left his hands. For this correspondent, the reaction of Bruce McAvaney on Channel Seven summed up best the only criticism those of us on this side of the fence should have.
''Gee, Hunt should have taken the mark,'' McAvaney said. ''But he didn't.''
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