Let's talk football, if you dare
Collingwood ruckman Darren Jolly. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
IN THE merciless court of popular opinion, Darren Jolly was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. In his Age column this week, he compared four AFL coaches under whom he has played, praising three but damning the first, Neale Daniher, who he said was all stick and no carrot.
For his forthrightness, Jolly was condemned by many, including the coaches’ association.
Jolly could have contented himself with cliches and blandishment.
Footballers are trained in these, lest by revealing even a little of their personalities, they somehow expose their clubs or the game. This suspicious watchfulness typifies newspaper columns written by players (though it is not true of them all). Frequently, they are condemned for the dullness of it all.
Footballers, knowing that they will be flogged for saying anything, say nothing, and are flogged anyway. This is football’s — sport’s — abiding double standard. It champions free speech, as long as the speaker says nothing.
This perversity was evident the next day, when Kevin Sheedy volunteered that he had doubted that Jobe Watson would become the footballer he now is and said he would have traded him if a suitable swap had been offered. For this, his truth, Sheedy was lambasted. Of course, that would not have bothered Sheedy, who has never shied away from a headline. It was not as if it handed the Bombers an advantage they did not already have in their mismatch with Sheedy’s GWS.
It was improbable that Watson took offence and certain that his father, the great Tim, did not; he and Sheedy joked about it on radio. Still, some would have it that Sheedy should have bitten his tongue.
Of course, football discourse cannot be a free-for-all, any more than in any other sphere. Free speech and cheap shots are not the same thing. But even there, the line often is too severely drawn. In London this week, England batsman Kevin Pietersen tweeted this of former player Nick Knight, a critic of Pietersen’s: ‘‘Can somebody please tell me how Nick Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for the Tests?? Ridiculous.’’
Pietersen is scarcely the master of tact, but this innocuous swipe was scarcely a hanging offence, you might have thought.
But no: The England Cricket Board fined Pietersen an undisclosed sum, saying that his tweet was ‘‘prejudicial to the interests of the ECB and a breach of the England player conditions of employment in relation to clauses regarding public statements’’.
When sport takes itself that seriously, the only response should be one long, loud and juicy raspberry.