'Jilted' Brownless saga shows AFL sexism still runs deep


It's time someone called out this whole Billy Brownless/Garry Lyon saga for what it is.

Some have come close, but let's not mince words any longer. This is not merely a salacious non-story. It is the nadir of a grubby grain of sports journalism that serves as the mouthpiece for an industry — Australian Rules Football — that has a long way to go before it outruns the accusations of racism, homophobia and misogyny that it claims it is committed to leaving in its wake.

Sam Newman and Billy BrownlessThese former AFL footballers and sports media colleagues have fallen out very publicly over the past few months. The cause of this is a reported affair between Lyon and Brownless' ex-wife, Nicky.

Lyon has since quit his media duties and sought treatment for a mental illness, while much of the sympathy, especially from those in the AFL community, has been directed towards Brownless.

This sympathy hit its peak last week when Brownless participated in an interview conducted by fellow The Footy Show panellists James Brayshaw and Sam Newman. Brayshaw and Newman did their best to cast this as an act of journalistic integrity: after all, why should their colleagues Lyon and Brownless be spared the same hard-hitting treatment they'd subject anyone else to?

But this is not Insiders. This is The Footy Show — a program that among other achievements has enshrined Newman as a cult figure despite numerous documented sexist and homophobic remarks over the years. Not to mention Brownless himself, a man who a few months ago, despite being a White Ribbon ambassador, was heard making a sexist, abusive remark during a junior football club function.

To be fair, there are ethical questions around marital fidelity — which include, by the way, those concerning societal double standards regarding infidelity enacted by a man or by a woman — that bear public attention. But it is doubtful that they justify dragging painful personal sagas into the glare of a media spotlight; or that a program as puerile as The Footy Show is the forum for them.

In any case, these questions about marital fidelity are not even relevant here. Lyon and Nicky Brownless were separated from their spouses when the reported relationship took place. What we are actually talking about then is two consenting, single adults engaged in a relationship. There is no public good in the airing of this story, nor in all likelihood is any good served to the private individuals it involves.

In fact there is a significant public disservice in the extent and nature of the attention paid to this story, in which the slight committed is no greater than a contravention of a presumed 'bro-code', regarding what is appropriate for men engaging with the romantic partners of other men.

Brownless himself invoked the underlying, archaic assumption to such a code when he said on The Footy Show: 'You don't touch another man's wallet; you don't touch another man's w ...'. He stopped short before completing the word 'wife', but the underlying assumption is clear. A wife, like a wallet, is a man's possession, and his ownership persists even when the relationship ends.

This is an egregious statement, that was let slide by Brayshaw and Newman. They, as fellow 'bros', presumably understood exactly where their mate was coming from. In fact, they pushed the attitude further, to taint what was the one constructive aspect of the interview, that being the snuffing of the rumour that Lyon's affair had not been with Nicky, but with her and Billy's daughter.

As this is factually inaccurate, it was in the interest of all parties to set the record straight. But even if it were true, we'd be talking hypothetically about a 20-year-old woman engaged in a consensual relationship with a single man. He may be considerably older than her, but this itself would be no marital breach; certainly no justification for public opprobrium against either party.

Here, again, there would be no slight apart from an apparent contravention of the bro-code, according to which she's not an individual, autonomous woman, but 'Brownless' daughter'. Hands off, bro.

This is the only apparent basis for the moral outrage displayed by three men, milking the story for all its sensational worth from the highly privileged platform of a high-rating network television program, from which the women intimately involved with and affected by the story were entirely absent.

Lyon and Brownless have had a long friendship and professional relationship. No doubt this is an extremely hurtful situation for Brownless. The end of a marriage and the prospect of a former partner finding happiness elsewhere are difficult realities to contemplate, whatever the circumstances. Likewise, if Lyon's illness is as severe as reports suggest, he deserves sympathy and good wishes.

But the public treatment of this story has both amplified it out of all proportion, while reducing it to a salacious titbit that does little more than reinforce the primacy of male egos, in an industry and society where male egos are already too highly esteemed. It has done more ill than good to the individuals involved, and to a public that ought to be striving for a more inclusive and respectful narrative.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Billy Bronwless, Sam Newman, Garry Lyon, James Brayshaw, The Footy Show, AFL, sexism



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Existing comments

Confession time: in the dim, distant past I did watch a few episodes of the Footy Show (Sydney version). I'm not proud of it, but there you are. In all seriousness, I do feel that a tragedy, such as divorce and perceived infidelity, is never given the respect and restraint such a highly personal matter demands, in a public forum. Two people are greatly affected when a marriage ends and it is very sad to think that the producers of the Footy Show could not realise the extent of their intrusion.

Pam | 15 March 2016  

"...there is a significant public disservice in the extent and nature of the attention paid to this story, in which the slight committed is no greater than a contravention of a presumed 'bro-code', regarding what is appropriate for men engaging with the romantic partners of other men..." Well put. When a non-story (where is the public good from this tearful extrapolation? where is the dignity?) becomes a week-long 'story' you get ratings, hits and exploitation. The freak show rolls into town yet again. The Footy Show's handling of the entire, sad situation, I suggest, shows the ethical, experiential and knowledge base differences between trained journalists and former sports players/celebrities who play act as media doyens.

Barry G | 16 March 2016  

Thanks Tim for writing an article that calls it for what it is. Patriarchy is alive and well and until we move those you support men's position of power and privilege and in this case ownership, our sons and daughters will struggle to find their true identity in life, that is gender equality

michael | 17 March 2016  

Typical self serving, reductive, viewer/media relationship, desperate to find outrage in anything and everything. For all you know, Billy was referencing two complete and opposite bookend pillars of a mans personal space. The symbolic material possession of a mans wealth and the deeply personal memory of an emotional and physical connection with another human being. But no, you seem to know for certain that all he meant was wife = wallet. This displays the weakest form of superficial journalism.....

Critical Thinker | 17 March 2016  

Well said, Tim.

Mary-Anne Johnson | 17 March 2016  

Well put! It is good to read an article that puts it more from the female's point of view. The only thing I disagreed with is justifying the interview for the"daughter" rumour. I did not know about the daughter rumour but now I do and so do many others. Billy put this in the spotlight more than it already was.

Eve | 18 March 2016  

I thought the Brownless expose was a publicity stunt! No thought for Garry Lyon or Nicky Brownless whatsoever and the smug look on Brownless' face last night sitting in Lyon's seat was just too obvious. In his own words it was all about him that lost his wife and it is still all about him. She was a single woman to have a relationship with whom she liked! Now it is still all about HIM! I will never watch the Footy Show again.

Jan Evans | 18 March 2016  

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