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Harry O’Brien’s recent break from the Collingwood Football Club has received tremendous amounts of media attention and an equally large amount of speculation about what exactly was said during the meeting that caused the rift between a senior player in O’Brien and the coach, Nathan Buckley.
O’Brien is an outspoken supporter of equality, and has stood strongly against discrimination of all kinds, whether based on race, or sexuality. Mark Robinson stated on football talk show AFL 360 that Harry needs to “grow up” and followed it up with an article reiterating that “Harry O’Brien needs to pull his head in.”
Robinson ran out the same tired excuses that have been bandied about by sporting media and football organisations for decades, and it basically came down to the scenario that the football club should be the primary focus of players, and that the environment of the football club isn’t like the rest of the world.
It is the same argument that was used decades ago to excuse racism by players and supporters. It is the same argument that has been used in the past few years, by players such as Cameron Mooney, to excuse the use of homophobic language on the field. It is an argument that is flawed and only serves to support the idea that bigotry and discrimination are acceptable.
Buckley allegedly made a remark in good humour, but then followed it up with a passive aggressive question to check if his language was “okay” with O’Brien. This deliberately inflammatory approach is both dismissive of the concerns of a player, and belittling. While people would ordinarily be able to shrug off such a remark as a throw-away line and laugh it off, when someone is in the midst of struggling, it isn’t quite so easy.
Football clubs are multi-million dollar operations, and the tactics used by Buckley would be unacceptable in any other corporate environment, so they shouldn’t be acceptable within an organisation as powerful as Collingwood, especially when a player is battling personal demons of the scope that O’Brien admitted this morning in a candid, albeit brief chat with the waiting media.
O’Brien revealed that he’s “going through quite a tough time at the moments, so I’d ask for your [the media’s] sensitivity to that – I’m going through issues from the past for a long time including a long and complicated, very complicated history of sexual abuse, suicide, depression.”
O’Brien’s revelations did not stop there, as he opened up about “seeing someone get murdered, knowing who murdered that person, not being able to say anything because that person would probably murder you. I’ve put that stuff to the past, and when the time comes right I’ll open up about these issues, but this is my personal experience and I have to do this in the public eye and it’s really tough.”
The desperation for mainstream media to pursue the exclusive story on the basis of sniffing out controversy often has a very human cost that is overlooked by the majority of people as they eagerly await the details of incidents to be laid bare.
The media fascination triggered by the desire to create a story, or discover one, is not limited to the football world. In early 2013, a British nurse committed suicide after a prank call by two Australian DJs in which they tricked the nurse into divulging personal information about the royal pregnancy.
The football media’s limited understanding of a story led them to leap to conclusions, and they incited a stream of vitriol from the football public on social media, with people joining the chorus and baying for O’Brien to harden up, and simply play football.
O’Brien made an impassioned request at the end of his statement, asking: “So if you guys can just give me a bit of space, I’m going through some real stuff here, real stuff and its really tough. Really tough stuff.” Not only should those in the media who speculated on this issue give him space, they should be issuing public apologies for the damage they’ve caused by speculating on issues that they knew very little about. The most important thing shouldn’t be the desire for the most impressive headline, it should be concern for the safety and well-being of others.