Picture if you will, a hypothetical situation surrounding a current AFL footballer.
A young, dynamic midfielder in a high profile and successful Melbourne based club. After starting slowly, this player is at the top of his game. His leadership and impact on games, not to mention sheer weight of possessions, see him eventually awarded the highest individual award, the Brownlow Medal.
He has an awkward running style and has struggled with issues of weight in the past. He is the son of a revered player. Much has, and is, expected of him and whilst surrounded by exciting talent, he has often been the ‘go to’ person in blockbuster games, including the Anzac Day clash.
Many people have an opinion about him, based on what they see in the media. This player has also been involved in allegations of drug use and has used the television media to make statements about these allegations.
So far, the above applies equally to Dane Swan as it does to Jobe Watson.
Where it departs is that the common perception amongst many (although not all) in the media, is that Watson is a good bloke, nice person, “we all know and love him” and that these reasons alone should be enough to warrant not contemplating him losing his individual honour.
It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be if it was Swan facing this situation.
Swan, for his tatts, casual attitude, apparent ‘brat pack’ tendencies and refusal to be a role model or see AFL football as the most important thing in his life, would not, I’d argue face the same level of immediate and wide-spread sympathy as Watson has.
I know as much as anyone who reads the papers about the Essendon and Watson situation, and whilst I have my own opinions, they are not based on as much scientific evidence, concern for the ongoing brand of the AFL or the potential for legal action that will eventually impact any decision that is made by the AFL based on WADA and ASADA findings.
However, the ‘good bloke test’ many are seeking to introduce into the argument seems to have no basis of logic. John Fahey has been adamant that character is not a factor and these things are more black and white than this.
Lance Armstrong was trying to cure cancer; it didn’t mean he wasn’t a bit of a prick and a lot of a drug cheat.
Watson appears to me, as someone who has never met him, to be a thoroughly likeable bloke. Swan’s less my cup of tea, but that’s me. But it is fascinating to contemplate how we’d react if the roles were reversed.
We all have heroes and villains in sport. Football, like all sport, needs its white hats and black hats, like a pantomime.
But we don’t like it when the good ones shift camp. “Say it ain’t so Joe” is our reaction.
We also feel we know the players intimately by seeing them play, hearing them interviewed and taking in the views of others within the football community. And we make judgements about whether they are nice people, kind to kittens and don’t cheat on their taxes based on that.
There’s no doubt that to be stripped of an honour like the Brownlow, and have history record you that way, would be a terrible thing to happen.
But, if that’s the outcome based on fact, then no amount of ‘he’s a good bloke’ should be allowed to be factored in.
In matters such as this, there can be mitigating factors, like admissions of guilt, willingness to cooperate, genuine unawareness of illegal action despite appropriate checking and impact of the substance taken on performance.
The character of the individual though is a dangerous area to start to take into account, and we as a football community should prepare ourselves for it to be set aside in matters such as this.