The Handcuff gesture: Politically correct AFL image-management gone mad.

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.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. When you look at goal celebrations in soccer, some of them are incredibly annoying and time wasting, some are subtle and inventive. I don’t like over-the-top celebrations in AFL because an average game has 25 (or so) goals and a lot of them don’t individually mean that much – so its an affectation.

    I have a few issues with Dusty’s celebration – but I’ll focus on this one;

    Does the person in jail like butterflies? Dusty could have done a little butterfly with his hands. Do they play the violin? Did they formerly milk cows for a living? We don’t know. Dusty chose to define this person for us as being behind bars. That’s his definition, which suggests to me that Dusty is glamourising that situation and trying (in a very juvenile way) to suggest he too is pretty tough and mean. I’ll bet he watches a lot of Underbelly.

    To me he was taking an opportunity denied to Matt White & Nathan Foley (and sadly Reece Conca) to get out there and show us his stuff in a final – and using that platform to preen himself as a tough guy with crim friends. It was not about his friend at all – just all about Dusty.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Succinctly Put Point Sean I to wonder whether he could have done something more Individually aimed at the person I think every 1 wonders were Martins Head is at which is why he is such a frustrating player
    I also find it intriguing that Richmond have taken offence to it in that there are times where Riewolt is disgracingly Individual and after the game against Freo in Perth when a
    Under 8s Side would have defended better in the last 2 mins and Hardwick blasted
    Deledio but then didn’t take any other action like he threatened 2
    Richmond seem to have Double Standards which needs to be addresses for them to progress

  3. Sean, you’ve turned me around on this one. My instinct was game day at the G shouldn’t be used as a platform to demonstrate personal views. But why shouldn’t it be? Just like any setting, be it a hall, the steps of parliament or a public place, if someone in our democratic society feels a need to express an opinion, he or she should be free to … and that especially goes for an unpopular one. The AFL, as we’ve sadly come to expect, have again reacted in a hyper-sensitive manner on this one. Fining Martin for showing solidarity to a mate that he felt a need to support is a decision that betrays freedom on speech and panders to the dollar. In what has been a sorry year for them, Demitriou and co have again fumbled the ball when strong stewardship was called for.

    Really great piece Sean, one of your best, and keep up the good work.

  4. I’m with T-Bone, this is a really good argument here Sean, and you’ve made me re-consider my initial thoughts on Dusty and the issue. Good stuff.

  5. Very interesting point, Sean. You definitely made me think more about it than just accepting what the AFL decided.
    But I have a foot in both camps.
    I agree with Chris @4boat in that Martin is glamourising and sensationalising a criminal. There is also a hint of protest with this gesture. An under-lying belief that the person in gaol is being treated unfairly by the ‘system’. For all we know the guy could be Jill Meagher’s murderer. Would we protest if the AFL fined a player for showing solidarity to someone like that? I think society would be up in arms and calling for Dusty’s head. Martin could definitely have done something else that was more personal to show he was thinking of his buddy.
    Nevertheless, I do think the AFL appear as heavy-handed in what is a trivial incident. If Martin hadn’t been ‘investigated’ and given a suspended fine, the gesture probably would have been forgotten by Monday morning. They have made a mountain from a molehill. And I also agree that people should be allowed to make comment in a society, even if that extends to an odd gesture on a football field.
    Great article though. Really made me think. As did the other comments.

  6. I should have said I also think you make some really good points Sean. The AFL micro-managing things like this is just dumb. When I saw it happen I thought simultaneously “You’re a dick, get your mind back on the game and kick a few more asap” and “HQ are not going to be happy”.

    In my experience people in jail are largely there for making dumb mistakes. One of the best things people on the outside can do for people they care about in there is try not to go down that same road. Happy RU OK day to all you Almanackers.

  7. Chris

    I thought the same as you when I saw it. Both ‘stop showboating’ and ‘you are going to be in trouble for that’.

    But later reflection led me to see a positive in it.

    I agree that a private sign would have sent support without making a public fuss, but I also think he shouldn’t feel ashamed or seek to hide his support or friendship for the person in jail.

    Liam, you make a number of fair points. I think the AFL is seeking to take individuality from the game wherever possible and are unbelievably image conscious. The fines are more about being seen to do something, so $2K for a guy who is on at least $500K is nothing.

    Martin, for all his faults, mentors young kids in trouble as far as I can make out from discussions about his next contract (although he’s seeking to be paid outside teh cap for that) so he has an affinity with those in trouble.

    Interesting point about what we’d think if we knew the person and the crime. Poses a moral quandry doesn’t it. You can have mates in jail and support them, but not if they are really bad people?

    Hard one there

    Appreciate all the feedback gents


  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Sean it is a Fantastic article as I to thought tool at the Time but you have made me have a real think about it and think differently Would have Loved Richmond to come out with your exact sentiments in support of it’s Player as I have said above I think on several occasions
    Richmond have displayed double standards which is disappointing
    Rapt to read something which really makes you think re Footy or More Importantly Life in General

  9. barry from bulleen says

    Wasn’t he gesturing just to all prisoners in general….surely the vast majority are tigers supporters…..

  10. I think the angriest person at the ground would have been Hardwick. He would have wanted his players focused and their mind totally on the job and then this lair does that gesture meaningless or not . I can imagine Ross Lyons reaction if one of his young guns did that in the middle of a final

  11. Perhaps if he had of used it to motivate himself further for the rest of the game it would not have been an ‘issue’. My experience with prison – and I have had some (visiting Jimmy Krakouer mainly Pete B not doing stir) is that they are pretty desolate spaces. These things do not glamorise being in the big house but make those inside consider what they are missing i.e. life.

    cheers & heave-ho

  12. News Flash: I am totally at one with the Sean Sisters on this matter. It is a matter for Hardwick and the club, not anyone else.
    If Martin was at Freo his feet would not touch the ground with RLyon. Every time there was aggro at Corio last week, Ballantyne had his chest out and his hands taped to his thighs.
    If the AFL banned all the dills who can barely read; are troubled by personal or family matters; or who skate the boundaries of acceptable behaviour – the Almanac would have no readers.
    The AFL does tokenism because it is totally compromised on real social issues like the normalisation of gambling among our kids.

  13. Excellent article Mr Curtain. When the same stupid fuss was raised after Krakouer did a similar thing it seemed every commentator and his dog was a sociologist. Then Marngrook Footy Show actually asked Krakouer questions in a caring tone and with an interest in the person (not the headline) and suddenly the gesture seemed meaningful and relevant. Your article has forced the reader to similarly think more deeply about the matter.

  14. You might have gone a bit early with your argument, Sean.
    Match fixing in the Victorian Premier soccer league.
    Bandidos bikie gang president in the Tiger rooms as a player guest.
    Makes Martin’s prison gesture seem a bit less innocent and a lot more sinister.
    Bikies don’t have ‘mates’ outside the inner circle, they have potential ‘marks’.
    Mysterious unexpected fade outs after half time???
    Unexpected losses against easybeats???
    If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then chance are ………………….someone’s on the take and making a shady buck out of it.

  15. PB

    I see your point and understand the AFL’s desire to remove any potential association with unsavoury characters that could seek to benefit from the game through nefarious means. I can see that associations like this are often where players get sucked into situations they can’t manage or don’t understand and that’s where drugs and fixing can occur.

    I agree too that the AFL’s obsession with the promotion of gambling and equal swift desire to clean up the sport still sit at odds.

    However, I still hold that Martin’s gesture should be seen as support and sympathy. Would we come down hard if he sent a sign to refugees on Christmas Island? Or made a political statement about logging?

    I can see why the AF fined him. I just think it’s a massive over reaction, out of place with a caring community and part of the bandwagon they jump on whenever things looks poor for them.

    If it walks and talks like a duck, chuck it in a wrap with hoisin and spring onions I say


Leave a Comment