When news of Dustin Martin’s desire to investigate offers from other clubs broke on Monday afternoon, social media and the footballing world went into shock.
From many, the reaction was one of hatred towards Martin. How could he leave the club that had done so much for him? What has happened to the days of player loyalty? Richmond supporters were particularly vocal, expressing their desire that should Martin want to leave so much, he would not be welcome back at Punt Road.
However, perhaps what we should be doing instead is questioning the system in place that allows impressionable young men to be paid upwards of $700,000 a year, a fortune for us non-athletes, to play a game.
In our game, players are offered money, often extremely large sums, to move clubs and bring their skill and ability to another team. For these players, the decision to leave will be weighed up against the possibility of success with their current team, and the future they want for themselves outside of football.
Ours is not a system that encourages player loyalty. While this has been a long-opined view in the AFL, times change. With the advent of free agency, this was always going to be the case. The game has also become much more commercialised, meaning that there is much more money in the system than there used to be.
Martin is well within his rights to see what other offers exist, and should not be pilloried for doing so. He is merely availing himself of the system and resources that are in place. He must weigh up what he believes he should command as payment for his prodigious talent against the possibility of playing in a premiership with Richmond in the near future.
If you want to blame anyone for Martin’s want to leave, blame the society that entrenches the belief that young men, some of them still teenagers, should be paid exorbitant amounts of money for kicking a ball around a field. Yes, the players train hard, and provide entertainment, and therefore should be compensated. However, when clubs are willing to pay a 22-year-old who has – as of yet – failed to reach his full potential upwards of $650,000 a year, that suggests that we have lost touch with reality and how much money that sum represents to ordinary people.
The other issue in this situation is the fact that we expect players to be role models and ‘do the right thing’ in all circumstances. Unfortunately, this is not realistic – young people are impressionable. If someone offered you $700,000 a season for kicking a ball around once a week, and doing some training sessions and media commitments a few times a week, of course you’d take it. In a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? Martin is not out of the ordinary in this regard – case in point is former Demon Tom Scully, who received a huge sum of money to play for fledgling GWS. Many in the AFL regarded Scully as a mercenary, but how could he refuse the massive sum offered to him? Some will suggest club loyalty as a caveat to this, but that seems to have become a thing of the past. Offering young players so much money will always have negative consequences.
With the commercialisation of the AFL, situations like that of Martin will become commonplace. Players seeking to leave their club in search of a better deal and more money will become the norm, rather than players leaving to search for greater opportunities.