A Tale of Two Faces

Posted on: August 13, 2018, by :

Two faces have been prominent on our TV screens during this past week: the face of Freemantle player Andrew Brayshaw, bloodied and broken after an off-the-ball punch during the West Coast v Freemantle game last weekend, and the face of Andrew Gaff, his West Coast assailant, genuinely distraught and aghast at what he had just done.  The incident has evoked a torrent of sympathy for Brayshaw and condemnation for Gaff, who the AFL Tribunal suspended for 8 weeks.  But I do wonder whether this tale of two faces might not be a parable of the two-faced industry in which these men are embedded, and perhaps even the two-faced culture in which we all are participants.

Violence is not alien to AFL: there have been similar and worse incidents of violence on the football field throughout the history of the game, and some of the legendary characters of the game gained their notoriety not through skill alone but through their ‘toughness’, aka physical intimidation.  The macho, ‘hard man’ image is embedded in the culture of footy, and I admit that it is one of the dimensions of the game that makes it so compelling.  Of course, there is a difference between tough physical encounter and wanton violence, but the line between the two is very thin, and very difficult to adjudicate, and when the moniker ‘dirty’ conveys, as it commonly does in footy, a strange mix of distaste and respect, it is easy to see how the attitude to violence in the AFL, by officials and supporters alike, might be labelled two-faced.

Over recent months the AFL has officially censured the drunken melees that have erupted amongst fans on at least three occasions, while continuing to reap significant revenue through advertising and sponsorship by multinational brewery companies.  And while the detrimental impact of gambling is well-documented, the AFL continues to receive massive income from the gaming industry through advertising, sponsorship and on-line gambling.  And while the AFL has done much over recent years to support the campaign against violence against women, its recent indication that the AFLW season might be reduced to just six home-and-away games smacks of a two-faced approach to the fledgling women’s football competition.

Lest it appear that I am in AFL-bashing mode, let me assure you that I love the game and love the mighty Pies and love Brodie Grundy … … but the parable of the two faces of the AFL does speak pointedly into the hypocrisy of the two-faced culture that embraces it.  We are all complicit in this hypocrisy – how can we condemn Gaff for his action while allowing our government to perpetrate violence against refugees and asylum-seekers in off-shore detention centres?  How can we criticise the AFL for its ‘gimmicky’ stance on AFLW while tolerating the inequalities experienced by women in areas like leadership, salaries and security?

I don’t have a quick-fix answer to this hypocrisy, save that of naming it in the hope that raising awareness might facilitate change in attitudes and behaviour.  And I don’t absolve myself of culpability – I’m as two-faced as the next person when it comes to enjoying the AFL, enjoying the benefits of my relatively affluent lifestyle, and pretending I don’t notice some of the injustices I pass by every day.  I guess we’re on a journey in this and one of the reasons I value being part of a community of faith like The Avenue is that I take that journey in the company of people who share my yearning for a better world and can hold me to account when my actions are two-faced and compromise my deeper yearnings.

David Brooker.

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