Friday, 12 July 2013

Robbo, Please

With Thanks: to Preston Towers for his work in reviewing this and providing additional direction in assessing the content of the article.

Please also read this over at the Bound for Glory News site: Media blunder puts O’Brien under more pressure

Tuesday 9 July was an interesting day in the media (and social media), with the maelstrom that was news on Harry O'Brien.

- First was the original Robbo article (which we have reproduced below, for posterity).
- Then came the HarryO doorstop and his revelations of the troubles he faces.
- And following that was the support from the club, as voiced by coach Buckley.
- And finally, the 'Robbo re-assessment', published at 4:35pm.

In between, the original Robbo article was removed from the Herald Sun (and other sites) and later, removed from the site as well.
Removed, without apology or comment. Removed, but refered to in the 'Robbo re-assessment'.
Yesterday, this columnist told O'Brien he needed to harden up.
If it was known O'Brien was "going through a history ... of things for a long time, including a long and very complicated history of sexual abuse, suicide, depression, seeing someone get murdered, knowing that who murdered that person and not being able to say anything, knowing that person will probably murder you'', then clearly a different column would have been written.
Some kudos here for Robbo at least making some comment as to why the article was removed.

But with the article now deleted, anyone reading the 'Robbo re-assessment' would not be able to understand the full issue around the above comments. The context is gone. And that is most of the reason why the screen shots below are here.

Breaking Down the Robbo  Article: Harden Up
If the events as described in the original article did occur, then there are societal issues in this story that the AFL are addressing, and these are worthy of further exploration by the football media, as well as by the wider football community.

Challenging of the norm.
The nature of the language used in the article, and the acceptance of some of it (to the point of  'excusing' it) needs challenging.
For example ...
"Paul Seedsman's sometimes nickname is ''Lez'', short for lesbian, because someone at Collingwood thought he looked like a woman who had a sex change. Boom. Boom. It's not  really funny in print, but this is a footy club."
It shouldn't matter that its "a footy club" or not.
It is a) not funny, and b) discriminatory conduct that would not be tolerated in corporate or public life. Football should be working against such attitudes. The AFL have begun on this front, though somewhat belatedly.

Or this...
The Magpies care for O'Brien and want him to return.
But they won't bend over just because his feelings were hurt.
Late breaking news, Harry, but everyone's feelings in life are hurt and ridiculed.
You don't have to be an ''AFL star'' to be feel patronised.
It happens every day in every walk of life.
So, harden up and do what you do best: Play footy.
Again, it is an important societal issue that the AFL are working, slowly, to counter. Correcting the codes attitudes to sexuality issues and homophobia is the next big challenge for the AFL administration.
The advice to "Harden up" and "play footy" downplays any forward steps the AFL are taking, either as the corporate entity they are, or on the individual level, such as in this story.

Societal change.
If we take the "Harden up" and "play footy" comment at face value, you could think it is a call to "sweep this under the rug and get back to normal". And that is an ideal the AFL has tried to rail against with progressive policy.
Working against racism, building multicultural bridges, trying to increase the profile of, and respect for, women in footy, and lately in the anti-homophobic campaign championed by players such as...
Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson, Collingwood midfielders Scott Pendlebury and Luke Ball, and North Melbourne captain Andrew Swallow are among players who will make a public pledge to never use homophobic language.
They will be joined by Richmond's Daniel Jackson, Carlton's Brock McLean, Kangaroos vice-captain Drew Petrie and Hawthorn's Matt Spangher in video messages highlighting the damage caused by verbal abuse.
And that was only May of this year. How do we, as the football 'consumer', forget such issues so quickly?

Looking further at the article, can we also read into it an attitude that 'its just a bit of fun', and that if 'Seedsman doesn't get offended, then its OK'? Is it that the notion of larrikinism in Australian sport forgives any harmful intent?
Again this year, those notions were combated when it came to the "casual racism" that engulfed football around the Adam Goodes incidents. And, in fact one of the key voices in this was Harry O'Brien himself.
"It is casual. Whether it is indirectly or historically, we experience it because it's almost like our racial discrimination has been hidden under larrikinism.''
Casual racism, casual homophobia.
All masked by the knock-about, larrikin Aussie spirit.
We can see why Harry might have been offended, and we can see why some might have, wrongly, excused it or wanted it swept under the carpet.

And to be fair to Robbo, he did highlight
"His drive to change the world is laudable, and his stance on racism recently was educational and heartfelt, and well worth the fight."
But we wonder why it is OK to fight against racism, but on homophobia he should just "play footy".

Personal Positioning.
Something unexplored in the original article was why Harry was upset. It is described he was upset over a "smart-arsed comment from Buckley". About, seemingly, purely the nickname and whether Harry would be "OK with that".

An implication is that Harry and his social stances were being mocked. And if so, then he has every right to to be upset. The values he carries are in line with the values the AFL aspire to. Nothing wrong with being on the same page.

But was he really upset over the idea that he would be OK with that nickname only?
Or was it a larger issue, of a player 'singled out'? Becoming an isolated figure inside the club?

As a member of a sports team, fitting in and feeling a part of the bigger picture is important. To be the odd one out in a team can be negative. To be positioned publicly in front of his team mates as some one different,  with a different take on the world, that gets brought up (occasionally, rarely, or often ...we cant be sure) might have been a catalyst.

Consider another high profile case of 'isolating' a team member from the group
Recently, however, Akermanis blamed the system ['Leading Teams'] for playing a role in his sacking from the Western Bulldogs, effectively describing it as workplace bullying. He sat stunned when former teammate Scott West even critiqued the colour of his blonde hair and brown goatee, which West allegedly felt made the outspoken Akermanis too much of an individual.
Admittedly, Akermanis may not be the best example, but the comment that he felt "too much of an individual" in a team situation, shows the effect of being though of as an individual, an outsider.

Final Comment.
Finally, whether the original article was true or not, or the bust up happened and spurred on some other issues or not, is not for us to say.
Nor do we comment on Harry's circumstances, as difficult as they are.
We acknowledge that Robbo has an opinion, like us all, and he can express that as he sees fit.

We do write this as we see flaws in his arguments, and disagree that the original article was taken down.
It should be there at the Herald Sun website, and if Robbo got it wrong, or was caught out by fresh information, he might consider this advice and write a real mea-culpa.

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