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Marley Williams' place in Collingwood team should be taken from him


Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Marley Williams.

Marley Williams. Photo: Getty Images

"Just think,'' urged the AFL in 2009 in one of several campaigns it has run or lent its weight to in the cause of stamping out ruinous violence by young men. This one was especially powerful because it was initiated by a group of contemporary players.

If Collingwood just thinks now, it will abandon its plan to play Marley Williams in a practice match on the Gold Coast on Sunday, or at any time in the near future. Otherwise, it will repudiate all that the club and the AFL says it stands for.

Fourteen months ago, in his home town of Albany, Williams put himself in the way of the very harm AFL players are sternly counselled to avoid: drunk late at night, in the midst of late-night drunks, aggravation thick in the air. They were evicted. Whether he followed or they loitered is unclear, but one punch later, a man's jaw was so badly broken that it needed a permanent plate to repair it.

This week, Williams was convicted of inflicting grievous bodily harm. He will be sentenced in April. The maximum penalty is 10 years' jail. It is improbable that Williams will avoid a custodial sentence.

If you take the cold view that Collingwood is the employer and Williams the employed, it is obvious that he should not play. Collingwood takes a more paternalistic view. It sanctioned Williams at the time of the incident, setting him to work in a Salvos soup kitchen for 10 weeks.

Now it intends to support him through a difficult time, putting ''structure'' around his ''limbo''. That means training and playing while waiting. The Magpies would have played him against Richmond last Saturday except that three days of sitting in a WA courtroom had left him unprepared. They intend for him to play against the Suns.

''Step Back. Think'' is a Melbourne initiative formed in reaction to three one-punch deaths to alert and educate young men about the catastrophic effects of even a single thoughtless blow. It is at least tacitly supported by the AFL. An ad driving home its message was aired at Etihad stadium last season.

If Collingwood steps back and thinks for a moment now, it will see that playing Williams is folly. First, it will expose him to further scrutiny. More than that, it will reflect poorly on their commitment to the ideals the club and the AFL claim to uphold.

The minimum behaviour expected of an AFL player is to abide by the law of the land; to that extent, Williams already is being dealt with. But AFL players are held to a higher standard. Mostly, they don't like it, but their extra privileges carry extra responsibilities; they are hand and glove. Junior players, junior clubs, society more broadly take their cues from these exemplars.

If Williams plays for Collingwood while awaiting sentencing, the implicit message will be that all is well in the Collingwood/Williams world, except for the fact of a momentary mistake and the accident of its consequences. Young men to whom such accidents befell lie in hospitals and bedrooms around the country. And in morgues.

Williams is far from the first AFL footballer to have to deal with a conviction or the imminence of one. Each case is different in its gravity and progress, though few have faced a long jail term while playing. The most analogous case at the moment is West Coast rookie Murray Newman, who also has been convicted of grievous bodily harm, also is awaiting sentencing, and is playing in the Eagles' practice matches.

Collingwood prides itself on being a leader, not one of the led. Captain Scott Pendlebury, once the target of an assault himself, is an ambassador for the ''Be the Influence'' campaign, which aims to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence. Across the AFL, the lesson is slowly being learnt, the better that it may be taught.

Step back and think, Magpies.

15 comments so far

  • An excellent article. Devoid of all the "football" emotion and dealing with the facts and reality. The most powerful point in this story is that Williams' victim could so easily have ended up in a morgue. Step Back and Think - not only Collingwood but all football clubs.

    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 9:45AM
    • I though it was the responsibilty of the Government of Western Australia and its court system to deal with this matter.

      If Collingwood as an employer see value in its employee either before or after a period rehabilitation then that is perfectly appropriate.

      Adam C
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 10:59AM
      • He has been found guilty. He shouldnt play

        Date and time
        February 27, 2014, 11:52AM
        • What needs to be added here is - He shouldn't play "until the court decides his punishment". If he so happens to get a bond then he is free to play if no bond, well......

          I'm a CFC member and it is disrespectful of CFC to the court and the victim to let him play. CFC can still support Williams by letting him train and be around the club but to let him play is disrespectful to everyone because it is so public. It would be different like last year where he hasn't had his day in court, but he has. Wake up pies and do the right and ethical thing.

          Date and time
          February 27, 2014, 4:54PM
      • Baum is my favourite journalist, but if it's a one-off mistake from the lad, then he will be less bitter and stand more chance of reform if he is supported through this period by his club. Great to hear the Pies put him to work with the Salvos. He has not committed rape or murder or sold drugs - he has made a foolish split-second decision, like many young men have done. Justice implemented by the courts will determine his fate. Sometimes organisations want to make too much of an example of an individual, under fear of their own reputation, and overreact - they overlook the repercussions of their decision upon the individual. Some individuals deserve more care than that and warrant support - and we as a society are better for it when they get it, because they come out of it a better person and the organisation and society are rewarded.

        Date and time
        February 27, 2014, 11:52AM
        • Maybe Eddie can get involved and he can call for Goodesy to get down here to promote it.

          Date and time
          February 27, 2014, 2:18PM
          • Gee, how ironic that when your precious stars of worst coast & dorkers get involved in a criminal manner it reverts to a slap on the wrist & they play regardless. BUT as soon as the word COLLINGWOOD appears, the scalpers & whingers are at full throttle. Yes Marley did do wrong & should pay via the courts not from your kangaroo court(weavels & d/head supporters). Oh how quickly we forget a certain players' antics & continual abuse of his position, with the backing of his coach & AFL officialdom, got away with his effort for over 6 years known by all. I'm sure I don't have "COUSINS" like that & don't want them. Let';s get of the band wagon & have a look at your own teams before lynching others!!!!!

            SAY IT AS IT IS
            Date and time
            February 27, 2014, 3:00PM
            • that Barry Hall returned to the football field after the Brent Staker incident says everything about the AFL. The only mistake Marley Williams made was that he should of waited until he was back on the football field to commit his thuggery.

              Saint Matthew
              Date and time
              February 27, 2014, 3:41PM
              • I think you are arguing against yourself here. If you take the cold view that Collingwood is just an employer then he should play. Should any oyher employer not allow someone to work whilst going through the court process? Its not up to an employer to punish an employee in a legal matter.
                However AFL clubs (and any sporting clubs really) are not your general employer. I dont believe that Williams should play and I also hope that the courts do not treat him differently (either more lenient or more harshly) due to the fact that he is a footballer or has some level of celebrity.
                It is also disappointing to hear that his lawyer is asking for leniency due to the fact he is a footballer, almost as disappointing as it is to hear that people targeted him for the same fact.

                Date and time
                February 27, 2014, 3:50PM
                • so its ok for the kid from west coast neman he can play having the same conviction know one is talking about him just that its collingwood its a story

                  Date and time
                  February 27, 2014, 3:57PM

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