On Roos 'Chookgate' and footy's duty of care

North takes sting out of sorry eventFrom one point of view the chicken video affair at the North Melbourne Football Club is just another instance of boys behaving badly. But seen more broadly it indicates how greatly professional sport has changed and the new questions that are put to it.

Of the incident itself there is not much to be said. It is another bead on the litany of young men drunk, young men violent, young men abusive, young men driving erratically and young men remorseful stories that is recited publicly several times a year in football and other professional sports throughout Australia.

The same stories of more local affairs are told quietly throughout the land. They are a regrettable part of young men growing up, and hopefully learning from their mistakes.

The public response to public stories of young men acting badly has become ritualised. Commentators point out the wrong in what the young men have done — in the most recent case, the demeaning of women. The players apologise for it and make some symbolic contribution to a cause that embodies the value they have trashed.

Players are then reminded that they are role models and that they must live up to the image which their sponsors would want projected. No doubt the concept of the role model does reflect the influence that sports heroes have on children. But when invoked by sports administrators it is above all a corporate concept. It has to do with preserving the funding stream that supports their competitions.

But beyond this ritual acting out of sin, confession and repentance lies a significant change in professional sport. The change raises more serious questions. It is the change from a part-time professional activity to a full-time professional activity.

The players are now employed by their clubs and spend time there outside of play and training. For footballers, becoming part of a professional team is like the change a member of the citizen military forces might make when he joins the army. The army becomes his whole environment and significantly shapes his values.

For that reason the way in which the army inducts recruits and monitors practices like bullying and discrimination is of legitimate public interest. So are the values that the institution professes and embodies in its practices. Allegations of abuse are rightly publicised and the army is careful to give the impression that they are thoroughly investigated. It acknowledges that beyond its professional competences involved in defending Australia it has a duty of care to the young men who join it. As we say, they are entrusted to it.

In professional sports, too, young people no longer simply play for clubs. When they are drafted young players are entrusted to them. The clubs have a responsibility to them not simply as players but as young adults who still have to shape the direction of their lives.

For that reason the culture of the club and the values embodied there are of legitimate public interest. By and large there seems to be much to admire in the seriousness with which most clubs take their responsibility. Where doubts arise, as at West Coast a few years ago and Collingwood last year, the clubs are quickly, often crudely, held accountable.

From this perspective, the concerning issue in the chicken affair is not that it happened but that no one saw anything exceptionable in it. That speaks of shared cultural values. If this were happening in the army, we would not want to entrust young Australian men to such a culture. The army would act to challenge the values and the practices flowing from them. So, we hope, will football clubs. That is part of their duty of care.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

Topic tags: andrew hamilton, north melourne, afl, kamgaroos, ribber chicken, boris, duty of care



submit a comment

Existing comments

The most thoughtful piece I've read on this,

Ray Cassin | 09 April 2009  

But why did the Channel 7 News have to telecast the sordid little film - and in prime time too?

terry mckciterick | 09 April 2009  

Never a truer word spoken.

patrick mcnamara | 09 April 2009  

Great to read the article. I thought the Footy Show was all about ritual, who really cared, some of the studio audience laughed - out of embarrassment - I think not. The naughty boys go through the motions, take the money and laugh to themselves. Facing the public was the ordeal, trying to look sorry was an effort because they probably weren't. The clubs need to take more of a pastoral role. Maybe a few weeks in a women's refuge might be more appropriate than a meaningless $10K. Responsibility is the key and you don't have to be an AFL football player to accept that. It is a great game [this football caper] but the charades on the Footy Show where the concept of conflict of allegiance is as dead as the chook in the locker, all just undermines the integrity of the participants and eventually the game. Let's get real and go for honesty.

Tony London | 09 April 2009  

Dear Andrew, Every adult is a role model. Why restrict it (modelling) to a few 19 or 29 year olds and those in between?

barry o"donohue | 09 April 2009  

With my experience of the Army (Nasho 1970-71) Uni (1974-1981) I have seen plenty of boys (and girls at Uni) behaving badly fuelled by plenty of alcohol. Sadly they simply reflect society and a sadly "me" mentality. A very thought provoking article Andrew.

Gavin O'Brien | 09 April 2009  

The footy club culture is a problem but the chicken affair cannot be solely blamed on sports clubs. Our society in general thinks it is acceptable for men to: see strippers on their buck's night, watch pornography, have casual sex, so it is no surprise that the chicken incident occurred.

catherine | 10 April 2009  

Your thoughts on the prostitution of footy are worthy of BA Santamaria, who made this the theme of an address at a Carlton Football Club Dinner, and published his critique of it elsewhere.

Jacko | 11 April 2009  

Last year when the three Broncos players apologised for having sex in a night club toilet and photographing it, I wanted to purchase the clip to use at school with my classes. After many attempts to purchase the clip from Channel 9, I'm still waiting. I speculate about the hold up.

At the same time I rang the publicity officer at the Broncos Club and had a courteous conversation with him. He pointed out what I have come to realise is true - the players don't want to be seen in as role model, they are in it to play footy, promote themselves and make money.

When Nick darcy was first in trouble with the Nick Cowley incident I stood up for him against the Australian Olympic Committee because I felt they were using the Darcy incident as 'breathing space' for themselves with the Chinese persecution of Tibetans which had just erupted again.

Since Nick Darcy has gone public with his issues and apologised publicy to Nick Cowley he has again been publicy sacked from team by Australian Swimming.

So, it seems, that sports personalities don't want to be a role model and the clubs and organisations don't want it either, they are only interested in the bottom line.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 13 April 2009  

Similar Articles

Indonesia veering towards extremism

  • Peter Kirkwood
  • 07 April 2009

This week's Indonesian presidential election ought to concern Australians more than it does. If Muslim radicals gain significant influence, we will have a huge hostile neighbour just to our north.


Poor nations could lead recovery

  • Michael Mullins
  • 06 April 2009

The G20 Summit took first steps towards stimulating the economies of developing countries. The Economist says growth in these nations could rebound quickly, as households are not weighed down by crushing debts typical in America and Europe.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up