Beating up on football thuggery


'Football' by Chris JohnstonRecently our local paper published a list of players who were going to miss finals football because of injury.These were not people who had fallen down a hole, or been in a road accident or been beaten by their wife with a golf club. These people had been injured by opponents in what is ostensibly a game.

I ask whether any activity where players set out to damage their opponents can lay claim to be called sport, and whether such an activity should be allowed to draw on the country's medical resources to mend that damage.

The injury lists could probably have been taken from any of the past 20 weeks, the result of highly trained young men attacking each other in front of thousands of people. I am not talking about fighting, affectionately known as biffo. I am talking about the game itself, in which the chances of winning are greatly increased by causing as much pain as possible to your opponents.

Police look on benignly; clergymen bless them; a politician may turn up to watch. There is no emperor in the stands to give a thumbs up or down for performance; instead there are fans (short for fanatics) who applaud thuggery and suggest that any participant who is less than enthusiastic in battering an opponent is unworthy to be part of the spectacle.

They may not put it like that — it is usually couched in terms suggesting uncertain parentage, indeterminate gender and unconventional sexual practices.

Read your local paper any weekend for the litany of concussions, broken bones, corked thighs, sprained ankles and damaged vertebrae — bodies that have been absorbing punishment that if it were meted out in any other context would attract a prison sentence. Monday after Monday we read it: players out for weeks, players on crutches, eye gouges, broken cheekbones, dislocated joints.

And the adults who are in charge of these muddied oafs protect the offending player ('it's a man's game') and hire a Queen's Counsel accustomed to defending murderers to plead their case in front of the judiciary, so that they can be back the next weekend to continue the havoc.

I pick on the rugby codes in particular. Aussie Rules does require a number of skills — you have to be able to catch and run and kick, and the playing field is sufficiently large that all these skills are needed.

Even though they glory in the name football, the rugby codes require no more than two or three people on each side who can actually kick a ball; in one of the codes, a player is selected for his ability to throw a ball straight over a distance of about ten metres; in a recent Rugby League game, a player was praised because, in the 80 minutes the game lasted, he had carried the ball for a distance of 100m.

Many of these players are thrown into the sport at an early age, to be hammered senseless by older blokes. In time, they learn the tricks of the trade and hand out the same punishment to hungry youngsters coming along after them. It is the same logic that in the past was used by trainee officers in military academies: we got bastardised when we started; why shouldn't they be initiated too?

And all those injuries — the hammies and groins, the months of rehabilitation, the shoulder reconstructions, the knee makeovers, the torn ligaments — their treatment has to be paid for, presumably by their club whose insurance claims push up the premiums for the rest of us.

And 20 or 30 years from now, who will pay for the hip replacements, the osteoarthritis, the knee jobs? Actually, let us not bring the whole thing down to money. Has any study been done on the long term effects of the battering which these tattooed, muscled-up young men give each other week after week? Put in another way, would you be happy if your daughter wanted to marry a man guaranteed to be a limping wreck by the age of 45?

The medical profession has rightly opposed boxing — an easy target, especially when you see a pathetic shell like Mohammed Ali. How can these same people be so sanguine about the weekly mayhem on our football fields? Is it cynical to suggest that it is because football is a nice little earner for the medical profession, not to mention the physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, psychologists and providers of X-rays and MRI scans?

As for what these young men do in their spare time, better not go there.

Frank O'SheaFrank O'Shea is a Canberra writer. He plays bridge.

Topic tags: AFL, Rugby League, Union, injuries, hammies, groins, rehabilitation, shoulder reconstructions, ligaments



submit a comment

Existing comments

Frank's criticisms of 'Thugby' are surely justified. In addition, the AFL should penalize the niggling and sometimes severe, backhanders and elbowing designed to destabilize Aussue Rules players.

However, the game engages thousands of mainly small boys to Auskick. It deflects thousands of youths away from the deviant behaviour that comes with idleness and aimlessness. It provides an interest for millions (admittetedly too often a conversational imperative). And to play it is FUN. I played and coached on the field for 13 years and I love reading, gardening, cycling, movies, plays and other benign activities. It's not bridge or football.

Enjoy the benefits and minimize the excesses I say. The bigger picture is the money going into sports of all kinds at the expense of education and the arts. That's the debate we should have.

Bill Hampel | 20 September 2010

Not one of Frank O'Shea's better articles I would have thought!It is ignorant to the contribution that football, including the rugby codes, makes to the national psyche and Australian culture. But worse, it is really just an anti-footy rant to coincide with finals time. Perhaps some research into the (published) cost of football injuries may have lent more weight to the piece, but even this would not have covered over the deficiencies.
Tom Cranitch | 20 September 2010

Bravo! I have been saying this for years. There may be intelligent males playing 'football' ie Rugby codes, but somehow I doubt it.
Pauline Power | 20 September 2010

One of the wisest truisms from my childhood is the adage that unless you've done something yourself you speculate on it in vain. You don't truly know the worth or worries of a pastime/pursuit unless you've lived it yourself. I don't know if our bridge-playing bon vivant, Frank, has ever attempted to play Rugby League, Rugby Union, 'Soccer'/Football, Australian Rules, Gaelic Football or Grid Iron (US footy).

To thunder against any or all of these codes, especially if you haven't attempted to participate (?), is to miss the exhilaration of sport. Bloodlust and the competitive urge are inextricably part of sport, but they are also an inseparable part of the human condition. As long as males are fuelled by testosterone we will always have the desire to pit skills, strength, speed and stamina - to weigh our abilities - against those of our friends and foes. Surely that's best to happen on the paddock chasing pigskin,regulated by referees/umpires, rather than in the pub carpark or a warzone.

This is a fun piece, but unless Frank has donned football boots himself this article is akin to a man prattling on about childbirth. It doesn't ring true. Come on Frank, 'fess up: have you played? Does your musing come from 'on field' cowardice (or a healthy sense of self-preservation)?
Barry Gittins | 20 September 2010

Maybe we should print this and send it to a couple of my sons!
Tony Taylor | 20 September 2010

Frank, I have been playing bridge for a good 25 years, the cost to both myself and the community has been enormous; depression, marital failure, potental heart disease and all-round existential despair.
And I certainly know many bridge players who set out to harm their opponents; relentless humiliation and exposure of personal failings is a sure fire route to psychological harm.

Perhaps we should ban bridge and limit our activites to safe pursuits like euchre?
And why is it allowed to be called BRIDGE - it is a bridge to nowhere mate, nowhere but misery.

But please, stop the rugby code bashing, it would be easy to repeat the similarly trite complaints about AFL ('you get points for missing', 'like seagulls fighting over a chip', 'a knock-on-a-thon'etc) but we rugby types are much more tolerant and mature.

chris | 20 September 2010

Hooray for Frank!!
I have long been of the opinion that football in all its guises is licensed violence.
I could not agree more with the cost in medical insurance and medical time. For instance can Mr or Mrs Nausea Bagwash or their children obtain an MRI on Saturday /Sunday??? or have their Arthroscopy on Monday after a football game? Oh no they have to wait sometimes for weeks even with private insurance.
I also play Bridge and though tempers flare and occassionally voices are raised no-one actually hits another.
Rosemary Keenan WA
Rosemary Keenan Gwelup WA | 20 September 2010

I sensed a tongue firmly in cheek in this article, but it makes a good point.
If you'll allow me to ascend my hobby horse again - why does our society willingly fund these brutal sports with high pay and medical costs, when so many people who cannot afford desperately needed medical treatments or equiment do without?
MBG | 20 September 2010

Yesterday I chose to comment on the religious article (Pope in UK) rather than the sports article(football violence) because I thought, rightly as it turned out, twice as many people could commment on sport rather than religion. What surprised me though was that there was only a total of 13 comments Sport 8 d Religion 5. Why were there so few comments on two such fruitful topics?

Aha! I thought. I know why. There was no mention of Bob Santamaria, who showed he was a fallible human being by being a one-eyed Carlton supporter. And no reference to Cardinal Pell having a pre -season training run with Richmond when he was a teenager.

How different the history of Australian politics and religion and sport might have been if Santamaria had been a Magpies supporter and young George Pell had been offered a place on the Tigers training list.

Uncle Pat | 21 September 2010

I enjoy watching Aussie Rules but am increasingly insulted and very concerned by changes to rules that allow violence as a cultural norm. This violence occurs when players are not near the ball. Add to that 'spitting' a crime with a fine on the streets. The culture and language of the game is degrading. As Chris Judd said most of the women at AFL functions do not want to be ogled. Media coverage is too often low-life. Each of these issues is violence or bullying.
Mary Perth WA | 24 September 2010

Well done, Frank! I agree with every word you said! After completing Year 12 at a private boarding school I was a physical wreck, from injuries received in boxing and football. My smashed, broken nose from boxing has plagued my health ever since. I couldn't breathe properly for the next 20 years, until one surgeon delved deep enough to clear the nasal passages that had been badly obstructed from an abscess that formed from the injury. I still have a deformed knee from a rugby league injury when I was 11 years old! My right arm has no radial movement from a break that occurred playing rugby union when I was 14 years old. I wish I had never engaged in heavy body contact sports. The risk-taking part of the brain doesn't mature until the mid-twenties, and young people like me were badly misled by our teachers and the false values of a school that placed a very high value on such 'sports'. Wake up, schools! Don't maim any more of our youth! I learnt from what happened to me, and wouldn't let my two sons play the above sports, restricting them to soccer as a football code, and no boxing!
Grant Allen | 08 September 2012


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up