This Jack Viney case is absolutely fascinating.
It has become all the talk. This is, in part, because it has had saturation media coverage. You can’t escape it down here, south of the Barassi Line. It is as much a part of life as hook turns and battered flake.
But there are other reasons; more important reasons. This debate shows that footy matters.
We see meaning in football, and for good reason. Football taps into understandings which have been acknowledged since the most brilliant of the ancients found their muse in red wine and got to thinking. Why do we do the things we do?
Taking their lead: why do we (in modern, or at least contemporary, Australia) follow football, a game where men, in the prime of their lives, chase a pig leather full of air around in the mud. And why do we follow it so passionately?
I reckon there are many reasons, multi-layered, why we feel so connected to the game. Some are conscious and obvious reasons: the love of your club; others are more subconscious reasons, like a deep-seated love of the game and those meanings we find in it.
Each year my club embodies my sense of hope. Each year we – my club and I – seek victory together. Each year we chase the Cup, and place value on the striving.
But you can do that in any code, and in any sport, in any pursuit.
What is it about footy?
Another element is in the notion of the collective. Footy takes players (and clubs) away from the spiritual tyranny of self. It asks players to give their very best, to show their skill, in the interest of the group. This is characteristic of many of the great philosophies: that to pursue personal excellence in the context of community and in the interests elevates you to a higher spiritual plane.
Can I discard self, remove ego?
And then there is the individual test; the test that has haunts us. Why are we drawn to challenge? Why do we seek to be tested?
In footy, that test is expressed very simply: can I perform a skill in the face of genuine physical threat? Football is about legitimised violence. Football is about courage.
Footballers must find this courage routinely. They know that the game is about courage. Supporters know it. So players live with fear. It is not a fear in the sense of cowardice. Far from it. It is fear in the sense of respect for the game, respect for the contest, respect for the opponent who is facing his own fear. This is the test and footballers know what athletes (and soldiers) have known forever.
In Antiquity the Greeks called it the agon. “What would we be without the agon,” said Odysseus. “How would any of us alive know quality if competition and personal combat did not let all the world know who embodies excellence and who merely manages mediocrity.”
From agon we get the word agony.
We are also alerted to the element of fortune. For all of our courage, many things are beyond our control.
That football is also play, stylised battle, is also significant, although the possibilities remain the same, and the fear is real.
And when that is encased in the layer that a footballer is asked to do it on behalf of others it becomes all the more significant.
Whatever happens in this appeal won’t be the death of footy.
But it will tell us something about whether those who look after the game really understand what the game means, and why it has such depth of appeal.
We admire the players for their (very public) courage: the mental courage to take the game on, the physical courage to remain skilful under threat, to continue to act despite living in a permanent Gethsemane.