Ride the AFL reality bus

HOW interesting! Just a week after my last column on crucifying players for lack of effort, that my own club has come under fire this week about our branded lack of spirit and effort following our disappointing loss to Port Adelaide last Saturday night.

Didn't I also say last week - when on the topic of Mark Neeld - that a week is a long time in football?

Whilst the Dees have felt the positive of that; over at Princes Park, a day has sometimes seemed a long time.

And so, just three weeks into this column, I'd like to take you for a ride on the reality bus of an AFL footballer, amidst the many perks and untenable fact that I truly am living my own dream.

I have long shared an undistorted view that AFL footballers and professional athletes have been long, and incorrectly, cast as role models.

Both media and community-based portrayal intensifies the discipline aspect of an athlete's job description. Never mind the on-field examination that comes at a footballer from a 360-degree angle.

It was interesting to note of an article written on the AFL Players Association website, by AFLPA President and injured Collingwood midfielder, Luke Ball.

"Every week when we take the field we accept that our performance will be scrutinised and…we know the media will be looking for any sign of weakness," says Ball.

"The increased media coverage and rise of social media has also contributed to this, with an incident no longer gone and forgotten, but rather driven by the media via every TV channel, social network and sporting forum."

He's right. But take it from me; it intensifies two-fold off the field.

It curbs the social-based activities of a footballer's life for fear of unfavourable recognition and public scrutiny.

Something simple as Twitter has brought more footballers and athletes from other sports unstuck than possibly anything else.

The rise of social media and its subsequent intrusiveness that it brings toward a footballer's private life have made it near impossible to live the average life.

Now, I'm not making the point, that the "average life" means that you go out to clubs or go overseas, have a few drinks and embarrass yourself a little bit; but I would argue that a fair majority of men averaged between 18-30 years would take an interest in such activities.

For that average bloke, the typical punishment might just be an ashen face the following morning and a few giggles when the photos come out on the Monday morning and the picture messages start flying.

For the AFL footballer, a bit of embarrassment from a night out on the town leads to media speculation, club involvement, league involvement and a negative public perception that haunts the player for months and takes years to remove.

There are too many examples to provide, but to the AFL's credit, their efforts to stamp out problematic behaviours in relation to alcohol, violence and respect to women has been fantastic.

The age of the modern footballer becoming a professional occupation, as opposed to the old days of the amateur footballer that fitted in a 9-5 job, has forced the AFL into establishing education initiatives on the aforementioned issues.

Couple these two factors together - football becoming a profession and the development of the media as the supreme public influence of the football community, the audacity to say that the modern day footballers are role models is a downright burden.

A BIG consequence of becoming an AFL footballer is temptation. Temptation comes in many ways as a form of rebellion against the strict impositions associated with football including diet and the attention, of fans, particularly from the opposite sex.

Especially being part of a Melbourne-based club where the eyes of the football world are at their most snakelike - the general attention given to one of the privileged 40-odd players on an AFL club list is enormous.

In my own experience, being a first-year rookie, I'm not quite in the spotlight as Chris Judd, yet I have been recognised in public - twice, actually.

Such is the aura that surrounds Chris, Carlton supporters and AFL appreciators alike are almost animalistic in their pursuit of getting a glimpse of the great man at publicity drives in Lygon Street or at Family Days.

For Juddy, sometimes these are wearing and, occasionally, dangerous tasks.

But even for the average footballer, there are the occasional females who hang around the club a lot.

Whether it be after training or simply just leaving the club, it's often that the same group of girls who will be waiting in the car park, begging the players for attention, some throwing themselves at the players offering a seat in the car and who knows what after that.

It's now becoming a matter of acceptance that with fame comes responsibility. Yet this responsibility is 24/7 and 365 days a year.

By all means supporters: seek the autographs, hang the posters on the walls and collect the footy cards to your heart's content.

But parents, if you're ever thinking of telling your young fella to model himself on the boys who run out on the hallowed MCG taking hangers and kicking sausage rolls, think again.

We're normal blokes who live a slightly abnormal life and the mixture is not always contrite to a happy outcome.



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