As a Richmond supporter, I freely acknowledge that Dustin Martin is 2 parts infuriating, 2 parts brilliant, 2 parts lazy, 1 part potential and 1 part not too bright.
But, he’s barely Robinson Crusoe there. (In fact he’s barely Mitch Robinson there.)
But, I am uncomfortable with the reaction and fuss made about his ‘handcuff’ gesture after kicking a goal in the second quarter of last Sunday’s game.
Have we gone so over the top in our efforts to sanitise the game that we are not only frowning on and tut-tutting this sort of thing but now fining players?
On Wednesday, the AFL’s Mark Evans announced a suspended $2000 fine against Martin for the gesture, which Martin has acknowledged was made in support of someone in prison. It is worth noting that Gary March, Richmond President was also equally unimpressed but will not be taking club action on top of the AFL fine.
In recent years, we have seen players such as Brendan Goddard, Andrew Krakouer and Michael Gardiner do it, and Tim Cahill has acknowledged a family member with the same gesture whilst in the EPL.
And so what.
Football clubs are full of people from all walks of life, thrown together and placed in the public eye because of an ability to play the game. They range from settled family men, budding lawyers and civic minded souls, to people who cannot read, are troubled by family or personal matters or who skate the boundaries of acceptable society.
Apparently in football, we love a redemption story and are very forgiving.
However, it seems we are unwilling to recognise that footballers have sometimes served time or made mistakes, have associations with family or friends who are in jail and that their support as high profile athletes or simply as mates means a tremendous amount to those who are incarcerated.
Jail isn’t a fun place. Whilst locking people up is based on the premise that people are sent to jail as punishment, not for punishment, we should not be under any misapprehension that it is a glamorous environment where life is enjoyable.
It also acknowledges that there is a price to pay for committing crimes, and the removal of their liberty is an acceptable result for their actions.
But, if you were serving time in jail, being able to watch with envy others run around making a great wage on the MCG on a beautiful sunny September day, I imagine you be heartened by knowing that a mate of yours, even in the middle of a final, remembered your situation and sent you a message of support.
Why do we freak out about this? Sure, Martin may be selfish in his contract negotiations and not great throwing a tag, but why does that criticism flow to his gesture.
Andrew Krakouer served time in prison for his crimes and was welcomed back into the AFL. His story was celebrated as one of a triumph over adversity. He had copped his right wack and was trying to rebuild his life.
Yet, the moment he sends a message on field to his friends still locked up, he is pilloried?
What sort of ‘bad look’ for the league are we trying to stamp out? What message does it send that the league doesn’t want to see? What rug would they like things swept under?
What does this say to those in prison? Already out of sight, are we saying that merely acknowledging that they exist behind bars is a finable offence?
The players, by the handcuff gesture, are not endorsing the crime, just recognising the person. They are not making a comment about their guilt or innocence, but are showing them that they aren’t forgotten. That they are supported in what, post release, is a difficult situation to manage.
Is Martin a bit of a dill? Probably. Is he holding out on a club that has supported him incredibly well? Completely. Does he have to learn to handle a close tag to be an elite player? Definitely
But should he, and others, be censored for showing support for a mate publically? No way.
Today, 12 September, is RU OK? Day, where we are encouraged to check in on those doing it tough, and let them know we are thinking of them and behind them. What a sad state of affairs it is that in this time of support being so desperately needed for those doing it tough in all walks of life, we fine someone for doing it publically.