On the eve of the ALFW competition, and with what has happened in our world this past year, I want to reflect a bit. With the lead up to the sounds of footy’s being bounced, sirens, yells, shouts, the many, many, many discussions surrounding the game that we love, I have become a bit more reflective of the game that I love so very much. Last year during the men’s season, we saw racial discrimination permeate on social media pages. We saw players leave the game for a while because of mental health issues. We have recently learned that Richmond legendary player Shane Tuck had one of the most horrific CTE brain trauma that researchers had ever seen. This brings me to what I want to say on the eve of the start of the AFLW season and the lead up to the beginning of the AFL season.
One of our very own players left the hubs last year to focus on his mental health issues. We cannot and must not belittle nor dismiss the issues our players across the board suffer from. At Hawthorn we have seen Tom Scully leave the game indefinitely for reasons we do not know nor should we, but whatever the reason is, we have to understand that for that person, the issues are very real and very personal. They feel that they cannot achieve their best on-field and off-field they are not up to their best.
There are those in the footy world who want to harper back to a game and a world where the term “suck it up” or “harden up” is rife. This is not the world we are in today and we cannot and must not go back to that world, for that world allows a player who gets knocked out, or suffers from concussion, to either continue playing or to play again at the next game. We have evolved in our knowledge of what players go through not only physically, but mentally as well. We cannot dismiss this and tell them to “suck it up” for the damage long-term is one where a person thinks that life is just not worth it anymore and we mourn not only their shorten lives, but we mourn who they were – our footy heroes.
Then there is the issue of racism that seems to be prolific in some fan’s circles. Those who believe that making a flippant or comment that to them and others seem to be a joke, but for the person/s who it is aimed at, it is hurtful and belittling. They don’t see nor understand how comments such as these can affect a person. We must not and cannot go back to a time when comments about a person’s race, religion or even sexuality becomes fodder for a “joke” or a “jibe” and that a person gets offended because someone else is, well offended. We have to be better than that.
We cannot go back in time when the game seemed to be more than what it is today. That it was accepting of racial taunting, name-calling and allowing players to be playing when they shouldn’t. We cannot allow players, young players to walk away from a game they loved and strived to play for many years. While I understand that the AFL changes the rules far too often sometimes, we have to allow the game to evolve in such a way that allows players to feel not only secure in their minds, but in their bodies as well.
As a society, we have to teach our young players that some behaviors are not acceptable on and off the field. As a society, we have to understand that discrimination of any kind is just not – well, sport! As a society, we have to accept that the way the players, all players, play the game, that sometimes their well-being is far more important than winning a game.
I want to see my club, Carlton, become the successful club that I know and can see it can become, but not if it means watching a talented player walk away because they are being taunted because of their race, color, creed, or even their sexuality. I want to see the best players out there playing because they are proud to wear the Navy Blue, but I also want to make sure that they know, that we as a code, a club, care about their mental and physical well-being.
As we start the AFLW season and head into the AFL season, I truly believe that Carlton will start their rise up and we will achieve this because we have respect for the players and who they are and what they do to ensure that we as a club, can achieve greatness.