Did the Aker sackers make the right decision?

by Josh Barnstable

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you wouldn’t have heard what has happened in the world of AFL. On May 20, Western Bulldogs star Jason Akermanis wrote an outlandish article in the Herald Sun about homosexual footballers coming out of the closet. Akermanis claimed that two former players had been offered $150,000 each to come out as gay; his advice was to just drop the subject. Football is not ready for homosexual footballers, and probably never will be. Imagine what would happen if a player held in high regard in the media came out of the closet? The likes of Sam Newman, Billy Brownless, Brian Taylor, Garry Lyon and Rex Hunt would be having a picnic with that. Akermanis was heavily criticised for his article, which was wrong in my opinion. Akermanis spoke his mind, he gave his opinion, and it was an opinion of worthy points and value.

What has happened to our freedom of speech in football? Recently, Richmond midfielder Daniel Jackson was fined for posting a status on the social-networking site Facebook that read “Dan Jackson is sick of playing a pussy sport and so is retiring in favour of playing a real man’s sport. Perhaps I’ll be better suited to the NRL?” Now, fair enough that the AFL saw that as criticism of the match review panel, because what brought that status on was that Jackson had been suspended for the third time in the season for rough conduct, but he just spoke what he was thinking and it should have been left as it was. Anyway, if the media and the AFL didn’t make such a fuss about it, who would have known about the status? Only Jackson’s friends on Facebook.

Returning to Akermanis, he was axed recently by the Western Bulldogs because of the latest controversy he had brewed up, as apparently he has a book in the works that is alleged to have some of his opinions on his now ex-teammates. Any thought of the Akermanis saga derailing the Bulldogs was quickly put to the sword a few days later, as the Dogs beat top-four fancy Fremantle by 82 points.

Do they need Akermanis? No. But, I know that I’d rather have a Jason Akermanis in my team on Grand Final day compared to a player inexperienced in Grand Finals that will take his place. I think this decision will come back to hurt the Dogs, and when it does, I know Akermanis will be sitting at home, enjoying the company of his wife and children, smiling to himself as he starts a new phase of his career in the media, where he can finally say what he wants. Finally, the muzzle is off for good.

This is an essay/persuasive writing piece I completed in English a week ago. It got a score of 14/16.

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.


  1. Josh, I wanna know what you lost those two marks for…

  2. Just a couple of grammar mistakes Gigs, which I fixed before sending it to the Almanac, and perhaps the teacher being completely against homosexuality had something to do with it, but I doubt it.

  3. Damian Watson says


    No personal accusations intended but I completely disagree wiuth several aspects of your essay.

    Firstly all players obtain the freedom of speech and nothing has changed, footballers are considered to be an integral part of the madia and have the right to voice their opinion. Why do you think they established the AFLPA?

    Secondly, we are in a society that needs to facilitate change. I realise that it would be extremely courageous for a footballer to publicly come out of the closet but you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that we in the sporting community would not accept it. Just because a player is homosexual does not mean he would convey any sort of an affectionate attitude towards his teammates. Take former NRL player Ian Roberts for example, the League was supportive of his announcement of coming out of the closet.

    Secondly I believe you are being too hasty when you claim that media identities e.g ex Hunt would undermine a homosexual player’s integrity. What you don’t realise is that saying a derogatory term about a gay footballer in public would embarass that particular journo’s reputation more so than the player.

    And thirdly you can’t publicly criticize the match review panels decision as they have followed the neccesary protocols for the punishment of a player accordingly. If Daniel Jackson believes that the AFL is too soft, he can go play Rugby League. It is his responsibility to keep his aggressiveness to an appropriate level.

  4. Damo,

    In response to each of your responses:

    If a player wanted to voice his opinion on how bad the umpiring was last weekend, what would happen Damo? How much money would they have to cough up? That isn’t allowing them to voice their opinion without a loss of quite a sum of money. Sure, they can go public and say how great the umpiring was without any hassles. See what happened to James Hird in 2004. He spoke his opinion, and was fined. That isn’t freedom of speech.

    You can’t deny the fact that there would be a large amount of spectators that would ridicule a player if he came out of the closet. You can’t just expect everyone to be a goody two-shoes about the situation, people will be harsh on the player and that’s that. And what happens in the NRL is the NRL’s business, nothing to do with the AFL.

    Again, you can’t deny that the likes of Newman and Hunt would have a go at making a joke of the situation, they don’t care what they say, if they did, you would know when the Footy Show/Rex’s footy commentary gets boring. Newman wouldn’t think twice about having a rib about the gay footballer, whether it be jokingly or not.

    Damo, the Jackson situation wasn’t about him wanting to play Rugby, it was about him having his opinion on the current state of the game, where we can’t hip and shoulder anymore without being suspended. He was just venting his frustration after more trademark tenacious attitude on the field, and you can’t blame him for that when he’s probably been raised that way. It’s not like he went into a pack all guns blazing, trying to knock a bloke’s head off.

  5. Josh,

    First of all, I agree with you on Jackson. That was a massive media overreaction, simply because Daniel was most likely feeling quite frustrated at the time the status was posted, and we all exaggerate things on our Facebook statuses.

    But Aker…I can totally understand the Dogs’ decision to sack him. It became about him more than the team, he was a major distraction for the club and its players.

    Firstly, his initial article on gay AFL players which started the controversy. He was definitely out of line there, as his article could have seriously made a gay player considering coming out of the closet think twice about confessing his true sexual preferences. Seriously, wouldn’t that feel like a real slap in the face hearing from Aker that you would be ridiculed by the football community? It’s time we reversed the homophobic attitudes in society.

    Secondly, the book he was planning on writing. If he wanted to voice his opinions on certain teammates, you’d think he wouldn’t choose to do it in the middle of the Dogs’ premiership campaign. But no, he put his desire for more publicity ahead of the best interests of the team. Therefore I can fully understand why the Dogs sacked him. We shouldn’t be feeling sympathy for him, he’s had his time and his exit opens up the door for someone else to make their mark.




  6. Wow, it seems that neither me or Damo can count very well. Firstly, Damo says “Secondly” twice, secondly I say “Firstly” twice, and thirdly, I say “Secondly” twice. (although the second time was by accident)

  7. Andrew Fithall says

    Some people are just not nice to have around. Carlton finally realised this when they released Fev. Brisbane now realise why Carlton didn’t want to keep him.

    When Aker was training with the Williamstown group as part of his penance, he was, for one drill, paired up with a player who, incidentally, had played a few games for Collingwood and North but was now permanent Williamstown. This player suggested to Aker that for the drill Aker take a particular role, which Aker perceived as being the lesser role. His response to the suggestion: “how many AFL games have you played?.

    Some people are just not nice to have around.

  8. Stephen George says

    Hi Josh,

    Being a fellow shinboner I have read a lot of your articles with interest.

    I find this short piece very interesting and your take on such a topic will always create debate (as Akers article did in the first place).

    I agree (in part) with Damien’s and Adam’s responses. To suggest that commentators such as Newman and Hunt would ridicule a gay footballer is fraught with danger. This would happen Newman and Hunt up to slander etc.

    Damien is correct in drawing a comparison with Ian Roberts in the NRL.

    This is not an NRL or AFL issue but rather a broader social issue.

    In terms of your comments regarding umpiring, this is completely different and shouldn’t be spoken about in support of your contention around ‘freedom of speech’. The sole reason the AFL want to show constant public support for umpires is that game needs them to continue (whether the public will admit it or not) and they wish to encourage youngsters to stay ‘in the system’.

    In relation to Daniel Jackson, I think that players need to understand that the whilst the game is still extremely tough ie. amount of physical contact with no padding, they need to play within the rules as they are. The game has changed in the last 20 years but it is certainly not ‘soft’.

    Getting back to Aker, I think Adam summed it up best by saying that “he put his desire for more publicity ahead of the team”.

    Anyway, keep up the articles as they are interesting reading.

    And most importantly, keep supporting the mighty Roos!

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    Josh- agree with you re Dogs may live to regret not having Aker’s experience come finals time. I find the hypocracy of the whole situation the most distasteful. The Dogs knew what they were getting(or should have ) -as did the Lions(or should have) with Fev. Clubs can’t have it both ways but seem to expect to.

  10. If I remember correctly, it was NOT the article itself that caused the already present rift to become public. It was the fact that the article the Bulldogs signed off on was not the one that was published, and the Club SUPPORTED Aker based on his recounting of how the wrong version of the article was printed. It then came to light that Aker’s recounting was a lie and the Club was left hanging.

    It appears the Club had already lost a lot of trust in Aker BEFORE the article was printed and his post-article lies were what opened the floodgates, not what started the rain in the first place.

    Two things I find interesting.

    Firstly, based on how people have been polarised by this issue, it appears that half of our population does NOT put trust at the top of the priority list when it comes to relationships. The Club has said it was a question of trust being broken on MULTIPLE occasions yet as far as 50% of the population goes, that was not a good enough reason.

    Secondly, it appears that the honesty is not as highly valued as everyone makes it out to be. Ask anyone if honesty is important and they will tell you that it is incredibly important, yet people only want to hear the truth if it makes them feel good. Noone wants honesty if its going to play havoc with their feelings. These are the, “Does my bum look big in this?” moments that we all have to navigate from time to time. I think Aker has shown that he is happy to be ‘honest’ about everyone else and his belief is that they should just accept it. He doesn’t appear to like it coming the other way though.

    In the end though, I think the main issue being discussed here is one of censorship and whether it is for the benefit, or to the detriment of the general public.

    I was anti-censorship when I was younger and more naive and idealistic. Why did Reverend Fred Nile stay up till 1am to watch Lady Chatterly’s Lover on TV to then publicly denounce it in the media the next day? No one made him watch it. What an imbecile!

    But as I’ve become older I’ve come to realise that most of our laws, including censorship, are to protect us from the inability of the minority (and very small minority at that) to act in a way that the rest of us deem appropriate. And sometimes this inappropriate behaviour by the minority is inspired, motivated, even emulated by material available in the public domain. How many innocent people do we allow to get hurt by inappropriate behaviour before we say enough is enough. That’s the tricky bit, and that’s when censorship plays its part.

    Whilst it sometimes seems an injustice that the majority loses some freedoms, the flip side is that we can live in a society that is a little safer and a little more secure.

  11. David Downer says

    I concur with Pete, greatly articulated response. It was absolutely the trust issue that hung Aker – via his lies to the club re the article edit, not the homosexual topic itself. The tabloids of course won’t push that angle – having “the gay story” as the sacking lynchpin was a much juicier proposition. Obviously there were other “trust” concern incidents to arrive at this point, but unlike Aker, the Dogs themselves retained enough dignity to not reveal everything chapter and verse.

    Contrast this with Aker petulantly screaming on The Footy Show: “check my phone, look, look, I got texts from four teammates”. Spare us. Kindergarten stuff.

    Having said this, the game needs blokes like Aker, a bit of flair, speaks his mind – but when that line is overstepped, and works to the detriment of the TEAM, then his priorities are elsewhere – even when looking down the camera lens and protesting that’s not the case. Aker would have been better suited to an individual sport like golf, tennis or athletics.

    The Western Bulldogs will be much better off and de-shackled without him, I believe they are now a genuine threat. Before that, with Aker hanging around, I wasn’t so sure.

    Good topic though Josh, got some hearty responses going!


  12. Great article Josh, and like Dave said, good discussion going on here.

    Now, I may be over-simplifying the issue by saying Aker is a tool. If BTG did a Tool of the Millenium award, methinks he’d be in contention.

    Like you, I’m all for freedom of speech. I think, heck, we’re not in a dictatorship where criticism of the powers that be mean prosecution! On the flip side, though, the image of umpires needs to be protected, like someone else mentioned earlier. If everyone just out and out hates the umpires, and if even the players are allowed to criticise them, why would any kid want to become one? We run out of officiators of the game, then no more football.

    Re: the homosexuality debate (though I know this was not the main issue of Aker’s sacking), I think it might be a bit naive to say that the players should come out as society needs to embrace this change. That would be perfect, in an ideal world. Unfortunately, we live in a world where, although PCness and acceptance are becoming big parts of our culture, they are not adhered to by all the population, or even a majority of it. The AFL would support the player, but dingbats on the field would add this new dimension to their taunting. Self-indulging, ill-educated people in the outer would be more than willing to voice their opposition to this new arrangement.

    Just take a look at the comments section on any newspaper website to see how ignorant and vocal many people in society still are. People have their (often out-dated) opinions, and they will fight for them, tooth and nail.

    And DD – re: a bit of flair, speaks his mind: players can do this without causing news-making controversy. Just listen to Shannon Byrnes, one of these days. He speaks his mind, accidentally giving away club secrets. Following Hawkins’ hot spot concern earlier this year, when the club were adament he’d only miss two weeks, Byrnesy missed the office memo and told a radio station he was out indefinitely. Club weren’t too impressed. Not the only time Shagga’s slipped up, either. And Paul Chapman is always good value for money. Blunt and controversial, but deadly honest, so he gets away with it.

  13. Peter Flynn says

    It’ll be interesting to chart the value of Aker’s media currency post the release of this book. The book will cause a kerfuffle in the tabloid press.

    Aker often has used conflict to further his media standing. How will he manufacture the conflict?

    When I think of Aker I think Big Fizz. My feeling is that his media career will slowly die in the bum.

    He may even become known in media circles as a dribbler.

  14. Thanks for all the comments guys.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on the Aker book, I’m also loving the fact that my birthday is in a couple of weeks. Black Crow by Andrew McLeod and the Shane Crawford autobiography sound like terrific reads and I hope Mum and Dad get them for me :)

  15. Richard Naco says

    Both of Aker’s clubs have stated that the public perceptions of his problems in each case were but the tip of the iceberg.

    Getting his career terminated with extreme prejudice once is regrettable, but for it to happen twice really does appear to be just plain careless.

  16. John Butler says

    PF #13, I reckon you could be on the money there. Aker profited from being a current player prepared to flaunt the conventions of what players usually reveal in modern footy (for reasons now obvious). Rather than add genuine insight, he usually went for the Big Fizz, as you say.

    The result of serving two masters is now clear. The book will be an enormous beat-up, but after that hubbub dies down, where to from there? A career as a performing media monkey seems an little sad for such a talented player.

  17. I’ve refrained from writing anything on the Aker saga to date but several dot points have been swirling around in my head for some time and need release!
    – his controversial gay piece in the Hun was sadly too true for the AFL footy community to stomach… much like the military, to come out in the conservative world of AFL is likely to be more damaging than not – Aker simply told it as he saw it and I reckon he’s spot on…just about every critic of the piece that I had the growing misfortune to hear (including several egriegous politicians) had obviously not even bothered to read the full piece… on this issue, I write with some authority as someone who’s played underage rep and senior footy in Qld and Vic, continues to work closely with the AFL, and also worked throughout the 1990s in HIV/AIDS education and closely with the gay community
    – this same military culture is ripe for the ‘Leading Teams’ corporate speak which frowns upon any character that dares to not regurgitate management mantras or not succumb in being grilled by teammates whilst isolated sitting on a stool. (Please Bob Murphy, I have to know that your wit and wisdom sees through this shite? Yes??) And wasn’t the football world so comforted (and sadly, it was) when the Player/Coach of the Century and uber-rationalist Lethal Leigh was able to exonerate his own dismissal of Aker at the Lions with his clinical “it’s happened twice, he must be guilty” verdict
    – how the man gets written off as simply a show pony is frighteningly shallow. If you even know a fraction of his story, you know how much Aker has overcome to get where he has, and even more commendably, he shows every sign of respecting those who’ve helped him get there. And if the price we pay for his media tartiness is a few off the cuff one-liners that fall flat, bring it on! Anything to combat the scripted stultifying stupor that characterises virtually all current players’ utterings.
    – as confirmation for some of his supposedly boundless ego, the nail in the coffin was apparently his piece last week on the AFL’s ‘Downlow’ – ie biggest underperformers…. again, I say, thank heavens for some candid calls on players whose weaknesses are clearly known amongst AFL coaching staff, because he actually offered outstanding analysis of each player’s technical flaws… that’s right, technique, that sacred cow of the footy world generally, a world that collectively sends the message “mate, don’t go all bio-mechanical on me and talk about technique, just let him kick/handball how he wants to!”… no other sport comes close to this level of perpetual philistine attitudes to executing and mastering its principal skills.
    This was reinforced just last weekend watching my daughter carry out her mock ballet exam from which her instructor concluded that “it was ALL about technique”… maybe Aker could go into ballet instruction?

  18. Gugwoolc, A lot of that would have made sense to me had I not seen Aker’s performance on The Footy Show when he told the Footscray suit to piss off after he had already left the stage.

    He seems to me like a clown — paid to say edgy things that piss people off. But he’s no Shakespearean fool just a proto right-wing shock jock.

    I appreciate your point about scripted inanities but they are preferable to unscripted gracelessness.

Leave a Comment