The Social Commentator: Oxygen Thief? Adult Bedwetter? Ubiquitous Brown Stain on the Underwear of Society? All Three? Discuss…

There was a well-written and highly entertaining piece on this subject from Dips O’Donnell here on Thursday. Let me make it clear that these musings are not a whack at Dips; far from it.


It’s easy to get sucked in by non-issues these days and Lord knows we get plenty of opportunities thrown at us in the so called ‘information age’.

From Knighthoods, to athletes on the drink in their spare time, nobodies with fat arses and a sex tape who’ve conned the shallow end of the gene pool into giving a shit about them, bullies and vacuous blondes behind microphones in a Sydney radio studio or some d-grade ‘journalist’ telling a mother whose son was allegedly beaten to death at cricket training by his estranged father what’s what when it comes to domestic violence on national morning television. Take your pick. We have an outrage menu that’s sure to please even the fussiest among you.

If the post-War years gave us Baby Boomers and kids born in the 70s were generation X, surely we’re living in ‘generation outrage’ and age is no barrier to disproportionate knee-jerk reactions and ogre-hunts.

Television and radio producers, website (greetings Ned, John), magazine and newspaper editors all know which buttons to push to extract page views, sell a few extra papers, get the phones ringing or snag a few extra ratings points. So much so that the last decade has given rise to the development of a position that makes arms dealers look like not-for-profit workers by comparison; the ‘Social Commentator’. Make no mistake, dear reader, that come the revolution, the Social Commentator will be amongst the first up against the wall.

This week’s cause celebre amongst the flat-earth society commentariat was the AFL’s push to remove scoring from Under-10 football games. Predictably, the Social Commentator’s erogenous zones have been prodded and hey-presto, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.”

By denying nine and ten year old children the opportunity to win an organised sporting fixture before they’ve lost interest in Passed-Out-Drunk-At-3am-On-King-St Barbie or Mujahedeen-Waterboarding G.I Joe with the Budweiser Grip, the social commentator is adamant that we are not only adding another layer of bubble wrap to their already over-protected existences, we are denying them the opportunity to experience the highs and lows that come with winning and losing.

Further, argues the Social Commentator, prolonging young Hamish or Pippa’s sub-conscious conditioning to any kind of physical activity (and life in general) existing purely for zero-sum competition, sparks in them an unexplainable desire to torture small animals and paint everything red. And if television has taught us anything, it’s that not everyone out there can be adopted by a kindly and well-intentioned uniformed police officer with a strong grasp of forensic science who can guide poppet in the finer points of undetected serial murders. This, the Social Commentator assures the reader/viewer/listener, is the absolute and unequivocal future assured us, because we denied 10-year-old kids a scoreboard on game day.

Give me a fu—king spell.

I played competitive, organised footy from the age of eight until I was seventeen. I can reel of plenty of examples where we’d whup opposing sides 30 goals to 2 and kids I played alongside cracking the Eartha Kitts because they didn’t get to kick a goal, or even get a touch as they were parked in a back pocket. Lo and behold, opening the Werribee Banner on Wednesday afternoon, we’d see ‘HOPPERS CROSSING U10A BEST: A good team effort.’ No flashbulbs or fanfare for the guys who had a field day in front of goal or had the pill on a string. Just the coach and team manager (volunteers) recognising that everyone put in, in some way or another. Now that I think about it, using the Social Commentator’s logic, elite performance wasn’t being recognised, the lessons learnt from beating up on kids half our size wasn’t given due credit, so clearly that’s why some guys I played alongside ended up doing gaol time, or becoming panel beaters, I’m not sure (and make no mistake; I got given plenty of hammerings on the way out when I started playing open age footy. What goes around certainly comes around. Some blokes have older brothers with long memories!).

I cherish the lessons of mateship and camaraderie garnered from playing competitive junior and senior footy, but I learned about losing and winning in equal measure off the sporting field as much as whatever I learnt about these abstract concepts on it. For mine, the pages of  ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ taught me far more about winning and losing in life than missing the under 10 finals because Matty Drew dropped an easy mark in the goal square in the dying stages and we lost by a point.

It’s not like the AFL’s proposal is to hand kids a medal for showing up until they get their drivers licence. We’re talking about nine and ten year old kids. Alexander and Stephanie can learn all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat a year later when they turn 11.  There’s plenty of time for kids to H.T.F.U* when they get to secondary school and mix it with the 15 and 16 year olds, or when they open a Facebook account, or when maybe one of their friends contracts leukaemia and you, the parent, is left to explain why Sophie can’t come around to play anymore. Or why Sophie’s Mum and Dad are crying so much in the church. That’s loss. Not some numbers on a scoreboard on a Saturday morning.

Childhood is not a football department end-of-season review or a monthly sales performance de-brief. Can’t we just let kids be kids? If we’re more worried about what ‘learnings’ a 10-year-old-kid is taking out of a Saturday morning kick with his or her mates than the fact they’re not sitting on their arses in front of a Playstation, or the computer then surely society is already fucked and throwing scoreboards away at under-10s footy games should be the least of our concerns.

And there you have it. In the blink of an eye, a thousand odd-words kicking social commentators.

Getting sucked in is so easy.




*Harden The F—k Up

About Steve Baker

"Colourful central Victorian racing identity". Recovering Essendon supporter, and sometime weekend night racing presenter on RSN Racing and Sport.


  1. “Go right to the source and ask the horse.
    He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.
    He’s always on a steady course.
    Talk to Mister Ed.

    People yak-it-ti-yak a streak
    and waste your time of day,
    but Mister Ed will never speak,
    unless he has something to say… ”

    I think I agree with you Steve, particularly as it is only about 9 and 10yo’s. I really liked your “to kill a mockingbird” counterpoint.
    But I got lost in the froth a couple of times trying to follow your thread, so I thought I would quote one of the world’s leading experts on meaningful social commentary.
    Is Wilbur still alive?

  2. Rick Kane says

    Good on you SB for stepping up and throwing your views into the ring.

    I don’t agree with you.

    I’m not sure that you put forth a clear definition of ‘social commentator’. Jonathon Swift is a social commentator, as are Mark Twain and Vida Goldstein (, Andrew Bolt, Angela Pippos and even you. Social commentary and commentators have been around for a long, long time. It is a vital cog in the machinery of free speech, democracy and advancing social reforms. I remained confused as to your definition of a social commentator (and their role) all the way through this piece.

    This essays appears to be arguing that the exponential growth of the Internet and social media, as well as an allegedly pervasive media in our daily lives sets an agenda that focuses on irrelevancies at the cost of “things that really matter” and blunts complexity along the way. Again, I don’t think that argument can be mounted with much confidence.

    Besides that, at the heart of your piece is a view of a potential new arrangement in junior footy, as well as a view of the reaction to those arrangements. And this is where I applaud you expressing your view. But I don’t agree.

    My 12 year old son has played two years of Tackers (U9s) and then U10s, U11s and is now playing U12s. He played Tackers, with the rules of no scoring, no tackles, no soccering and marks paid as soon as you touched the ball in flight. I thought the no scoring was stupid then and I still do.

    For the record, I don’t care if my son’s team wins a Premiership or not. There is a lot more to team games besides Premierships, as anyone who has participated in teams sports knows.

    His team has made the Grand Final the last two years. The team has 28 players. The club is not obliged to play all 28 players in the Grand Final but our club has a rule that all kids who have contributed during the year will play in the GF. This rule may have cost us a GF but I haven’t heard any complaints. Because winning isn’t everything.

    However, keeping score (in a sport where, essentially the reason both teams run out on the field is to get the ball, carry it forward and, er, score) is important. And everybody does anyway.

    In WA junior football scoring and the Ladder that goes with it isn’t introduced until either U13s or U14s. My brother, who is the club president of a Junior Football Club marvels at the competitive nature of junior footy in Melbourne. He has lived the so-called “playing to enjoy the game’ ethos and his view is that it reeks of a manufactured ideal. He says it doesn’t remove the competitive drives at all, merely masks them.

    Virginia Trioli captured it best when reporting this news on ABC Breakfast. Her male colleagues were discussing it, trying to present an impartial and responsible adult spin on the idea. She just looked dumbfounded. She shook her head and said, but they score goals don’t they. Her colleagues said, well yes. She shook her head again (as if she was sliding down a rabbit hole with Alice into a not so Wonderland) and said, but they score goals don’t they? If they are scoring goals then they are already competing.

    Thinking that if you don’t record the score you are therefore emphasizing the fun of the game rather than it’s competitive nature is wishful and delusional. The fun is about competing. In the four years I’ve been involved I haven’t yet seen a kid switched off the game because it was competitive. The opinion about putting restrictions on the essence and premise of the game, on the other hand, is overwhelming. People think it’s condescending and dumb.

  3. Some good points you make Steve, but I do concur with me learned colleague, R. Kane.

    By the way, I’m also a futurist, designer, and life coach.

  4. The Wrap. says

    A Community, as in its government, gets the Social Commentary it deserves. And judging from both over the last decade or so, we need to take a good long look at ourselves in the mirror.

    As for removing scoring and winning from Tackers’ Football to remove the element of winning and losing from the undeveloped minds I’d suggest that, while appearing to be a noble & enlightened piece of social engineering, it may be trying to override a hardwired – and essential – element of the human genome. And as well meaning as the Mothers of Melbourne may be, they may be, in the long run, doing their John & Marys a disservice.

    But more relevant to Our Great Game, if our Tackers are playing in scoreless football matches, their undeveloped minds may not be able to distinguish the shape of the pigskin and may grow thinking they’re playing soccer all those junior years.

  5. We didn’t keep score in the Auskick games that wrapped up the Sat morning Auskick sessions for the 5 to 9 year olds. The kids always knew the score though and would recite it to us when we all proudly said it was a draw (again). My view was that keeping score at least encouraged them to learn their 6 times tables.

    I accept that Tackers footy doesn’t keep score, but the kids all knew who was winning. As to why as Tackers in August one year they weren’t allowed to score and miraculously in April the following year as Under 10s they were suddenly mature enough to be able to cope with scoring, always baffled me.

    I can see the logic behind it, but disagree with the plan. It is short term planning. Its the same with Primary school reports nowadays. Every kid is doing just fine, homework isn’t encouraged, everyone gets a ribbon and the shock they get in senior school is a dead set worry.

    For a few years at our junior club, we had player of the day burger vouchers. Over the course of the year, let’s be honest, every kid got one. The value came when we hit about round 13, the entire side had got after game awards, and then we could start to reward who actually played the best. This year, they’ve gone with both a BOG, and contribution-style awards, so they recognise both. Over the course of the year, no kid goes home empty handed, but they have B&Fs since Tackers at teh end of the season and I think every kid knows who is the best.

    I agree that everything that encorages them to be out and about instead of staring at a screen is good.

    (Trouble I have now is I am not sure I agreed with Steve or not!?)

    Finally, I think social commentators or dial-a -quote has been around for ages, just now it is a career or job title an dthey are everywhere. Bruce Ruxton, Neil Harvey, Thommo, these guys were at the end of the line for every journo who knew they’d get a reaction and a headline to go with it.

  6. I want to hear from poor Matty Drew on the subject!

  7. Whilst I don’t agree with the proposal to ban scoring, B&Fs, etc for U10s its hardly one of the top 10 issues I’d be arguing about either way. I am now guilty of giving “social commentators” (yes thats you too now Steve) oxygen in their relentless desire to impress their opinion on the miscreants.
    Live and let live.

  8. Skip of Skipton says

    I would not have wanted to participate in any sport when I was a kid if there was no scoreboard. This is an important story.

    Garry Lyon on Footy Classified had similar thoughts.

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