12 May, 2011


This week has seen a cyber-explosion of angst against injustice rarely seen in this country.  No, it had nothing to do with the newly-released budget or asylum seekers, but rather the absolutely farcical three-game suspension handed down to second-year Melbourne Football Club dynamo Jack Trengove.  For those who tragically aren’t avid AFL fans, this week the intelligentsia behind the league’s match review panel decided to suspend Trengove for what has been universally lauded as “the perfect tackle” on Adelaide’s Patrick Dangerfield (who left the field concussed), incorrectly assessing the incident in the process and sending the game into a tailspin of confusion about what is and isn’t permitted on the field.  Cue the (completely justified) lambasting of the decision and the AFL by players, supporters, and everyone with a desire to see the sport not completely sanitised to the point where future matches will have to be decided by future captains battling it out on an EA Sports AFL game on an Xbox somewhere to prevent injury.  High farce.

This whole debacle has however provided an interesting insight into how injustice is allowed to continue in our society.  While Melbourne supporters (yours truly included) and other AFL fans have lost the plot on internet forums and social media, Melbourne players have expressed their disgust via Twitter, and the Herald Sun newspaper has set up a ‘Free Demon Jack’ Facebook page which has thus far garnered over 3000 ‘likes’ in 24 hours, the anger has largely been restricted to the internet, TV news and talkback radio.  Where have the physical, situation-changing responses been though?  Where is Demon legend Ron Barassi chaining himself to the cars of match review panel members?  Where are the thousands of outraged demonstrators protesting day and night outside AFL House?  Where was the Demon mascot hurling his plastic trident at unsuspecting AFL administrators after Tuesday’s laughable tribunal hearing, at which 64 minutes of evidence was ignored in just four minutes of deliberation?  And where was I on my promised one-man crusade of justice through AFL headquarters wearing a Vin Catoggio wig and brandishing ‘Free Jack’ placards? 

Maybe I haven’t caught up with the power of social media yet.  It’s possible that internet blogs and forums, Facebook, Twitter and any other forms are the future of justice campaigning.  However, when Melbourne’s latest appeal is heard at 5.30 this evening, I doubt those with the power to revoke Trengove’s ridiculous suspension will be taking into account the 3000 likes on the ‘Free Demon Jack’ Facebook page.  Perhaps they wouldn’t listen either to the sounds of 400 rabid lunatics in red and blue out the front of the hearing, but I think such a public demonstration is an important visual display of disgust at a clear injustice.

It is incredibly simple to add your name to a cause on Facebook, as the growing number have done in support of Trengove.  How much this actually achieves though is questionable.  While I’m not advocating a rampage a la Liam Neeson in Taken in this case, though that would have been both spectacular and potentially glorious, there is something to be said for public, memorable protesting at injustice.  This week we’ve seen absolute outrage at comedic incompetence on the AFL’s part, but the response, while passionate, has been a few clicks of a mouse and some angry words typed on internet forums, a couple of semi-coherent rants on SEN radio and some columns in Melbourne newspapers warning of the potential damning effect the decision could have on the game. 

And you know what?  The likely happenings at tonight’s appeal will consist of Trengove’s legal representatives pointing out the utter stupidity and incorrectness of the classification of Trengove’s incident replete with evidence and testimony, which will be followed by a couple of minutes of whispering (most likely about what they’d like for dinner) by the match review panel before upholding the three week ban.  Nothing will have changed, and Melbourne, not far removed from a huge campaign to eliminate $5M in debt, will have to decide whether or not the principle of the matter is worth the financial burden and political danger of taking on the increasingly Gestapo-like AFL by taking the case to court. 

So what is the solution then?  In this case, justice firstly requires that the Melbourne Football Club take this matter as far as they can, and if that means court, then so be it.  Seeking a just outcome can include using social media, but it doesn’t end there.  Social media allows us to promote injustices that are out there, to gather public support and to provide information and ways of acting to bring about justice.  Sending the AFL information that most people aren’t happy with this decision however isn’t going to change the collective mind of an organisation that hates to be corrected at the best of times.  Not when the league’s new five-year TV rights deal will net them $1.253 billion, a clear indicator that the footy public is pretty happy with the current state of the game.  The situation calls for politically dangerous moves from not only the Melbourne Football Club, but other media outlets concerned with the plight of the game, whether that comes from Melbourne’s AFL-committed newspapers, radio stations or television networks.  Lastly, the public (and this will never happen) would need to be incredibly organised, united and committed in their response.  If games were largely boycotted by fans this week, that would take the attention of the game’s administrators pretty quickly.  The AFL doesn’t need to admit an error unless the response is so undeniably confronting that action would need to be taken.

The Trengove case highlights this week the way in which a large section of the public can be outraged about an injustice but largely do nothing about it.  And why was nothing substantial done?  Because it’s difficult, confronting, and because we lead busy lives.  As much as I’d have loved to go on a Clark Griswold-style hijacking of the tribunal hearing on Tuesday night, I was working at the time and missed out.  Acting against injustice requires a personal cost and commitment, whether financial or of time.  And you know what else?  I don’t know how many supporters at home who were outraged by the suspension thought they could actually make a difference to the outcome themselves.  Probably none I’m guessing, with the possible exception of that Richmond supporter from the 1990s who emptied his manure truck at the front door of the club’s administration after a particularly poor performance from the Tigers.  We’re taught, whether subconsciously or not, that we really can’t make a difference in our world.  That corporations are too big too be touched, that starving children halfway across the world in Africa are too far away to be helped, that child prostitution is too underground a problem to be solved, that homelessness is not our concern but somebody else’s and probably won't ever be eradicated, and so on.  It’s quite possible that if I parasailed onto the turf at Etihad Stadium at this Saturday’s Melbourne game with a 20-foot “Free Trengove” banner, it would achieve nothing more than me being slapped with the obligatory $7000 fine for entering the field during play, and leaving the game with a criminal record.  But what are we prepared to sacrifice, risk or act on to ensure that just outcomes are found for those most oppressed.  Does the victim of sex trafficking receive any help from us beyond a feeling of outrage that such a situation can occur?  If you’re unhappy with how asylum seekers are treated in this country, have you done anything to help their plight beyond writing messages of support on Facebook?

So, "How do I help?", you are asking from your computer at home.  I don’t have the answers for each individual situation (that’s a whole other blog), but I will encourage you to be passionate about issues of injustice, and to let this passion inform your actions.  Be organised, committed, united with others in the cause, and vigilant.  And see the oppressed as your brother or sister – love your neighbour as yourself.  In the words of legendary Hawthorn coach John Kennedy, “Do something!

I’d love to stay and chat, but I have a large ‘Free Trengove’ banner to get to work on.


1 comment:

Jack said...

Football is a stupid obsession for too many people. Christians love to pray about things, thinking that it actually does something to solve problems. But it doesn't. If Christians are serious about injustice, they would stop their praying (as well as their bragging about their 24/7 prayer groups and the like) and invest this time in doing.