When Luke Hodge leads the Hawks onto the MCG this Friday night, it will represent a triumph of public relations and corporate skulduggery.
He shouldn’t be there. It’s as simple as that. He should no longer be Captain of Hawthorn, and he certainly shouldn’t be running out onto the field this weekend.
For two reasons:
In Round 21, with Port Adelaide’s Chad Wingard vulnerably bent over the ball and with his head and neck right next to the post, Hodge dropped the shoulder and collided with Wingard.
I’m not the first to suggest that Hodge’s decision to keep going at a contest that was obviously dangerous (and totally unnecessary, as the whistle had already blown) could have left Wingard in a wheelchair or worse.
As it turns out, the AFL suspended Hodge for just two weeks, with those two weeks coincidentally being Home and Away games.
Coincidentally, that meant that Hodge was free to play Finals.
Coincidentally, Hodge also plays a prominent role in advertising for the Finals. He’s in commercials, in print advertisements, and all over Hawthorn’s promotional material.
What a coincidence, then, that he got suspended for just two weeks for a thuggish, dangerous, and stupid play when there were just two weeks left before the Finals series.
Except, of course, that isn’t the end of our story.
A couple of weeks later, Hodge got behind the wheel after a few beers, getting sprung with a 0.068 BAC the week before the Finals started.
Let me repeat: THE CAPTAIN OF THE TWO TIME DEFENDING AFL PREMIERS WAS CAUGHT DRINK DRIVING JUST BEFORE THE FINALS!
So why wasn’t this a bigger deal?
We all heard about it, but it kind of blew over a fair bit, didn’t it?
In fact it blew over pretty damn quickly, too, didn’t it?
In fact, it blew over so damn quickly that now we have articles in newspapers telling Hodge that he needs to move on and get over it!
Did we all decide that 0.068 is “only a little bit over” and that “boys will be boys” while collectively agreeing that those bloody Nanny-Staters at the TAC are just a bunch of killjoys?!
Did we decide that drink driving is something to feel slightly embarrassed by, instead of mortified and horrified and deeply ashamed of?
What the hell happened?!
Well unfortunately for anyone with a reasonable sense of right-vs-wrong, the AFL and their media pals were in full-blown “Protect the Investment” mode.
You see, Hodge is a key figure in marketing the Finals series. Well-spoken, successful on the field, and media-friendly, Hodge is part of the AFL’s money-printing machine.
The Finals are a multi-million dollar spectacle. TV networks and newspapers make a fortune during Finals with Finals-specific advertising. The AFL itself makes a fortune too as a result.
Neither the media nor the AFL’s Head Office wanted Hodge’s crime tarnishing the Finals series, or overshadowing the games in the same way Essendon’s drug saga had overshadowed nearly three seasons of Essendon games.
So instead we had a moderate amount of media coverage of Hodge’s selfish, dangerous, potentially-lethal decision… and radio hosts and newspaper columnists all exhibited moderate levels of outrage… just enough to avoid scrutiny.
“Yes, he’s done the wrong thing. Not good. He should be embarassed. Not what you want to see. A bad example to set…” and so on… Hawthorn took him off a few billboards, which was about as serious as his punishment got.
Not one journalist had the guts to write the article that needed to be written:
Hodge deserved to lose the Captaincy.
He should have been suspended by his club, by Hawthorn itself.
We didn’t read that article. There was no proportional response to, again, one of the league’s highest profile players getting caught drink driving just before the finals.
If it had been Fevola, or Cousins, or Swan, or Martin there would have been round-the-clock coverage and the team involved would’ve had immense pressure to suspended the player immediately and indefinitely.
Indeed, there is precedent of AFL clubs suspending players for off-field transgressions this serious.
But because it was Hodge, and because he is so important to the league, he effectively got off with a slap on the wrist. And it’s disgusting.
It reminds me of Campbell Brown breaking a teammate’s jaw (which required extensive surgery and plates to repair) in a drunken fist-fight…
Assault causing bodily harm is the phrase that springs to mind.
Another phrase springs to mind: One punch can kill.
And yet apparently Luke Darcy and Eddie McGuire on Triple M’s Hot Breakfast have no problem with “Browndog” throwing violent punches at teammates.
In the aftermath they simply brushed it aside because “He’s a decent man” and “he did what used to be considered a great act of mateship” and “you have a fight and you become best mates” and “you need to go through that.”
Apparently because Campbell Brown is a “ripper bloke” he can do these things.
(SKIP TO THE 30MIN MARK FOR A MASTER-CLASS IN GLOSSING OVER A VIOLENT ASSAULT)
Campbell Brown chose to throw a punch that caused horrific injuries to another person. He should’ve been charged with a crime. That’s the social expectation when anyone other than a footballer does it, so the same applies here.
That he didn’t get charged with a crime, and that Luke Hodge didn’t even get suspended for his crime, are an indictment upon the AFL and its media partners.
They should be ashamed. Not slightly embarrassed. Deeply ashamed.