An Affair To Remember

[first published in 2012]

 

by Phil Dimitriadis

Stories about sports celebrities fit in with scandal stories about celebrities in general, except that the effect is amplified by the contrast between the Apollonian ideal – the role model – and the fallen star. The dramatic effect of the hero fallen from grace, a staple of general celebrity narratives, is that much more powerful when the sports star is held up against the Olympic ideal. (Brookes, 2002, p.s.33-34)

The term ‘Loose Men Everwhere’was made famous by ABC commentator Tim Lane throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the running game was breaking the shackles of the sometimes static and one-dimensional ‘mark and kick’ game.

John Harms ensured that the term stays in the vernacular for some time to come with his fan autobiography, Loose Men Everywhere. In relation to the game the term describes a situation where a number of individual players have somehow been able to break free from their opponents and present themselves as enticing targets for a foot or handpass. The saying implies a moment of domination where one team has a monopoly on the ball and the defending team is in disarray.

Describing the off-field exploits of some footballers gives the term a totally different perspective on one level, but still alludes to a lack of discipline. Poor defensive skills on the ground may equate to poor choices off the field in regards to the company player’s keep to the substances they take and when they do so. Perhaps there is a sexually moral connotation here that links the ambivalent actions of ‘Loose men’ to that of ‘loose women’. Females and footballer’s tend to be judged rather severely when their sexual peccadilloes are exposed.

Former North Melbourne Premiership captain Wayne Carey can attest to the stigma associated with sexual misdeeds. His situation may have been extreme as he was caught with the wife of a former good friend and teammate, but the amount of media coverage around the event almost cast Carey as someone who was grotesque.

Illicit affairs occur in all walks of life from anonymous domestic situations to highly publicized celebrity scandals. Isolating Carey to this degree made many other AFL players look angelic in comparison. And yet the titillating details of the affair and the way it was exposed, in the bathroom at the party of another teammate, made most soap operas appear tame in comparison. The relative innocence of Kelli Stevens in this affair exposed the complex double standards that can occur in the often-phantasmagoric world of AFL football. She was generally portrayed as the victim of Carey’s irresistible machismo, and her husband Anthony was also depicted as the pitiful victim because he was a good old fashioned country boy and stalwart of the club.

It is interesting to note that Carey’s form was on the decline before this ‘bombshell’ as much of the popular media called it. He had captained the club to the 1996 and 1999 premierships, often putting his body on the line and out-marking packs of two and three players. He struggled with shoulder dislocations for two years before the ‘affair’, yet all the courage and valour on the field was forgotten from what seemed a mutual affair of a sexual nature. Was the timing of his ejection from the club any coincidence? And why was Mrs Stevens still welcome at the club afterwards, considering the amount of turmoil her choices caused to a number of associated parties around the club? There were no accusations of rape or coercion from Mrs Stevens so why was Carey singled out as the singularly grotesque ogre of the whole affair?

A major factor is that footballers that cross certain moral boundaries are ostracized beyond the contempt meted out to celebrities in the entertainment world and the general public. A star footballer often has the mythological Jesus aura in the AFL. He is a symbol of new hope for the future. If there is any indication of a flawed character, especially sexually, the critical focus becomes significantly magnified. The clamour from fanatics associated with Dan Brown’s claim in his work of fiction The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus had fathered a child, or  been active sexually is a case in point. What happened to Carey involved similar media hysteria, albeit on a microcosmic level.

The 2002 edition of Australia’s Best Sports Writing, contains no less than fourteen articles directly related to the Wayne Carey affair under a chapter titled: Wayne’s World, in mock emulation of the sometimes surreal movie of the early 1990s where two small town losers suddenly become Rock and Roll idols with the ability to seduce women at will. One of the more objective articles in this selection is Bad Boys: Code Of Misconduct, by Garry Linnell. Linnell argues that it is time that the media and the public stopped expecting young immature men to become unrealistic role models. Of the moral grandstanding that followed the Carey saga, he writes:

But it was everything we’ve come to expect from professional sport these days, too, a world in which we cling to an outdated notion of sports people as role models, a hangover from the days when the values of amateurism – good sportsmanship, putting the team above the individual, playing for glory, not money – matched the values we admired. Professional sport changed a long time ago. Maybe it’s about time the public, the fans and the media recognized that. (In Hutchinson, (ed), 2002, p.143)

In contrast to Linnell’s argument there are many articles in the collection that take the moral high ground and condemn Carey for his unethical behaviour. Richardson writes:

“It is a story of a King who had it all, but failed to observe the sacred compact of trust that goes with the prized position he held…Few things are more important than preserving the trust between us and our heroes. Without that, all their achievements and all our loyalty are just hollow” (In Hutchinson, (Ed), 2002, p.107).

The pseudo religious guilt-trip mentality continues as newspapers use letters from children to heighten the sense of moral degradation in Carey’s actions. One letter published by the Herald Sun newspaper is from nine-year-old Sam. She writes: “I used to love going to the games and just focus on you and count your possy’s (possessions). Now that’s all changed. Even I know better than what you did” (In Hutchinson, (Ed), 2002, p.113). The inevitable, albeit comparatively marginal analogies of casting the first stone and parallels to Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes that went unpunished are also recorded in this series. The pathos behind the copy and examples used by Hutchinson is indicative of the importance of sports heroes and specifically football heroes in Australia.

Winkler places the ambiguous ideal of football morality into perspective when he writes: “The sordid saga did nothing for Carey’s standing as a person, and put a question mark over his worth as a club man, but it didn’t diminish his eminence as a player. Most rival clubs expressed strong interest in him once he was on the market.” (In Holt and Hutchinson, 2003, p.247)

In most other anonymous occupations a man who has an affair with his best friend’s wife is not the sole perpetrator. Two adults make a choice and live with the consequences. In the Carey case it appears as if the media and the public were almost relishing the opportunity to bring down the King. Therefore in expecting sportspeople to be paragons of virtue the media and a large section of the public play the ‘role model’ game knowing that a ‘fall’ will be satisfyingly titillating and inadvertently raise the moral characteristics of the common citizen beyond that of the feted but, alas, now fallen former superstar.

 

For more thought-provoking and entertaining writing on footy (and sport generally) return to www.footyalmanac.com.au

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. Really interesting stuff, Phil. Thanks.

    I suspect the reason Kelli was still “welcome” at the club was the fact that she (from memory) “repented” and tried to repair her marriage with Anthony. In those circumstances it would be impossible to “exclude” her. Wayne had no such “marriage” and was therefore seen as “expendable” perhaps? (I speak from dim memory here, so apologies if I have that wrong.)

    I probably shouldn’t be surprised that there were 14 articles about the affair in the 2002 “Best Sports Writing” but I am. That’s amazing. Would we get that many about Liam Jurrah in the 2012 edition?

  2. Skip of Skipton says:

    Back in the ’70s/80s and even into the ’90s the Wayne Carey/Kelli Stevens incident would have been nothing more than a hot rumour doing the rounds. Now and since then every trivial piece of possible moral and legal transgressing to do with footballers is amplified far beyond its worth.

    The masses have less interest in politics and far less interest in tradional church as they once did only a generation or two back. The agenda setting and social engineering still has to be delivered, society still has to be controlled, so the best way in this day and age is through vehicles like the AFL and FIFA etc, which the proles are following. The recipe du jour is dumbing down with a good pinch of PC. It works like gin and tonic water.

  3. Good King Carey last went out
    to have a feast at Stevens’

    but the two boys had a bout

    cos Carey was deceiving

    coveting his best friend’s wife

    so they had a duel

    caused the club to end the strife

    what a silly fool.

  4. Richard Naco says:

    Unless he was doing it by himself, an affair usually involves two consensual partners. (Well, at least two … )

    I have always found it a trifle unbalanced that Carey copped the whole blame & Kelli copped nothing. It seems to be the ultimate sexist vision, that he was in full control of the situation while she – obviously perceived as being a ‘typically’ weak minded woman – was nothing but a victim.

    A view I found at the time to be far too simplistic and patronising.

    It was still a sad stupid act of bastardry (by them both).

  5. DBalassone says:

    Hard to believe that ten years have passed since this event. Jokes and juicy gossip aside, it has to be one of the saddest footy stories ever. Although according to some, it was not a first – Swans in the 80s and Pies in the 90s, if we are to believe the rumour-mongers.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sadder sight on a footy field than when Carey played against his old team at Telstra Dome. I felt for North supporters that night. It should never have happened.

  6. Phil, it was excellent to read this once again.

    Even for a North supporter on the periphery, it was a painful time. My sons were very young at the time, and could not understand why Carey went to Adelaide – the ripple effects.

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks Smokie,
    So many people still reeling from those events. Here is the interview and Carey’s response. Forgiveness is easier said than done sometimes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hMfBal4n-s

  8. Hi Phil
    Interesting to read this straight after watching Open Mike. In the light of Sunday’s result it was always going to take something special to make me feel anything positive about North Melbourne but by gee I was impressed with Stevens as a person. So sensible, so level-headed. In no way did he come across as playing for sympathy despite having every justification to do so. Beyond the interview, I know nothing about Stevens and how he’s conducted his life in the years since the affair, but he struck me as having a remarkable balance between moving on and doing the best for his family, but at the same time remaining utterly unforgiving of something that clearly crossed the line. I won’t comment on my opinions of Carey except to say that it’s rather pathetic that so much of the debate and focus was wasted on the perpetrators of this tawdry business rather than the innocent victim. As far as I’m concerned, what Stevens had to endure dwarfs any of the ramifications for Carey, Kellie, North Melbourne or the AFL.

  9. Thanks for the link Phil. Compelling stuff. Like Stainless I was impressed by Stevens as well. It makes you wonder if the virtue of forgiveness preached by the Western and Buddhist traditions is always the right way to go. Sometimes to forgive someone is to let them walk all over you, to cast pearls before swine, as the proverb goes.

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Thanks Phil for a balanced article and the link it is a unfortunate fact that a lot of clubs would have to forfeit if every player who had a affair banned from playing and Anthony Stevens is the victim

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