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Pre-packed confession and redemption - and we all feel cleansed after it

Glenferrie was aghast at a player signing himself as Warwick Capper.

Glenferrie was aghast at a player signing himself as Warwick Capper. Photo: Digitally altered image

In what feels a lifetime ago, on an average training day at Glenferrie Oval, the football operations man called the Hawthorn players into a private meeting, looking terribly worked up about something. We were all eager to learn what it was, so we filed into the rows like schoolboys, and did our best to look sorry and attentive.

"I just received a telephone call from a woman," he said, gripping a piece of paper in his right hand, "And she sounded very upset. One of you has apparently signed Warwick Capper's name on her Hawthorn jumper."

The room was divided by this scandalous news into those who were angry, and those who swallowed laughter. The manager went on with his management-speak, generally about how the nonsense ought to stop. Most of us thought nothing of it, and waited for him to finish his routine. But, as if marking in time the death of the scallywag, his voice rose into a demonic strain and he squeezed out, "Whoever did this is piss weak, own up to it. You're an embarrassment to the club."

If it wasn't for that last furious assertion, the forger of Capper's hand would no doubt have stood up then, and said what is now obligatory in any public organisation when a person acts outside of expectation: "It was me. I am deeply embarrassed, and I repent. " But the tone had already shifted, and no one stood up.

Naturally, an intrigue settled over the squad and made everyone nervous about what should happen next. People guessed who the culprit was and said nothing.

This was in the wake of the halcyon days, when a joker was still free to joke, and even expected some reward for it. It was not so long ago, a decade maybe, but even that recently you had to take the train into the city to see a working touch screen. And the footballers were only just conceding the dawn of the professional era, where sterility in the public discourse would really start to matter for them.

A few of the youngest boys in that group would get rich and win premierships, but they also saw their sporting lives become products, beholden to the corporate gun that smoked all renegades, and dictated to others the jargon lines of "process-driven outcomes", "acceptable behaviours", and "compliance". Perhaps for the first time a player's non-compliance to sanctioned behaviour was something marked on a spreadsheet by his peers and, in sufficient numbers, meant exile for him.

Still no one had confessed to the crime by the time the group was changed and assembled outside the race. One or two older players were starting to put pressure on the culprit to come forward, and with each unanswered call for admission the tension swelled. It seemed, for the first time, that these senior figures were relishing their role as police in the new order, which was essentially made up of business concepts, only amended by testosterone and those virtuous four-letter words.

The guilty player, known to us as the Reverend, explained to me recently, "The scenario escalated so quickly after the meeting that I felt a confession was out of the question. By the time of the warm up, I'd already left it too long to say something. I was committed to the lie."

This was perhaps the first time we saw football perform explicitly as a microcosm for moral debate. In a modern American courthouse, for instance, an early guilty plea will get you off some crimes, but a late one will see the case heard by a jury of peers, resulting always in a punishment more severe.

We learnt that teams doing their own investigations are infinitely more effective than, say, ASADA could be. Players who did not police a teammate became themselves guilty of a crime. The Reverend in this case was approached by another teammate who claimed to have seen him sign Capper's name, and implored him to admit it before the group. On hearing this the Reverend decided that he must come forward.

And in that moment, as we all trudged around the oval before the session, someone of that new leadership group stopped the team in the goal square and gathered us around.

"Boys", he said, "We've just signed up to a set of behaviours, and honesty is one of them." As he went on, pleading with us from the centre of our huddle, the Reverend's hand began rising from the bunch behind him, but the speaker could not see it and kept on.

"If we can't be honest about this, then we're f----d anyway," he yelled.

This was too much, and the Reverend, finally cracking up, spoke up with his hand still raised like a child's.

"It was me," he said. "It was me."

Years later I thought of this, watching Mystic River, the scene in which Sean Penn's character thinks he has found his daughter's killer. It's an old friend, whom he kneels by the river for the final act. But he cannot kill him until the friend confesses. "Admit what you did," he screams, over and over, until finally, mercifully, the friend says, "Yes. I did it," and instantly is murdered.

Versions of this fable are emerging everywhere in entertainment, and among sports people especially, from whom we demand confessions so that we can forgive them, and ultimately render them as better people in our hearts.

Mike Tyson has made a stage show of it, touring his confessions, and bathing in the light of redemption each night, wearing a white suit. Boxing writer Donald McRae described Tyson as "a sensitive soul snared in an ogre's body". Who could not empathise with that? But Tyson, after all, is a convicted rapist. Mat Haber of Esquire wrote last year, "You can almost feel the good guy in him being knocked out time again by the bad guy."

It has happened too to Tiger Woods, who is now one major championship away from completing the narrative arc from hero to villain and finally redemption. A reporter for Macleans in Canada asked a social therapist last year about Woods' behaviour when he reemerged at the top of golf.

"I can sense his humility and his genuineness," she said. "I actually like him better since the scandal. If you look around here nobody can judge anybody."

Woods' sponsorship is back and last year he was deemed cleansed enough for a round of golf with President Obama. "I think what's going on is they're hitting all the right stereotypes," said Arthur Caplan of the New York University program Sports and Society. "The advertisers and the media have a stake in his redemption."

It must happen in the right order for the postscript to work. Otherwise the hero dies on live TV like Armstrong did. You don't confess and find redemption on Oprah; you get judged.

The Hawthorn group immediately forgave the Reverend after his confession. We all felt redeemed in some way. Cleansed. He went on to become a lawyer, but resigned after one year. He is now studying psychology.

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 19:20MCG
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
BRI 74 vs COL 86 19:20G
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 19:20ES
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 18:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 15:20MCG
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Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 13:10SS
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
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Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 13:10AS
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 15:20SS
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC vs MEL 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 11:10NZ
ESS vs COL 14:40MCG
GWS vs GCF 17:40SO
PTA vs HAW 19:40Adelaide Oval
FRE vs SYD 20:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:10G
GEE vs NTH 15:20SS
WBU vs ADE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GEE 13:45MCG
SYD vs WBU 14:10SCG
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
NTH vs HAW 19:20ES
WCE vs GWS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs FRE 13:10MCG
STK vs ESS 15:20ES
ADE vs PTA 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 19:50MCG
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 13:45BA
WBU vs STK 14:10ES
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ADE 17:10MS
MEL vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs BRI 15:20ES
PTA vs WCE 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs STK 13:45Adelaide Oval
HAW vs MEL 14:10MCG
CAR vs GWS 16:35ES
SYD vs GEE 19:20ANZ
WCE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
RIC vs COL 15:20MCG
BRI vs PTA 16:40G
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Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE vs CAR 19:50ES
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
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Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
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Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
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Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
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Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
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Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
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Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
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Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
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Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
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Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
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AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 3 3 0 0 171.27 12
Sydney Swans 3 3 0 0 141.75 12
Fremantle 3 3 0 0 138.76 12
Hawthorn 3 2 1 0 166.33 8
Richmond 3 2 1 0 139.37 8
Collingwood 3 2 1 0 125.65 8
GWS Giants 3 2 1 0 113.47 8
Essendon 3 2 1 0 104.74 8
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