The sad, sad irony of #dickileaks: what women don’t want
First a note for anyone who stumbles across this from the Twittersphere and who may rightly ask the question, “who the fuck do you think you are?”. Truth is, what I know about AFL football would barely fill the back of a postage stamp. I have, however, provided media training to dozens of AFL players, as well as crisis communications advice to a handful of clubs in the past, including St Kilda. Having said that, my opinions are mine and mine alone: I make no claim to magic powers. My interest in this story stems from it being a fascinating case study in issues and crisis management, mostly from the “how not to” side of the ledger.
Building a positive reputation among women and creating a “family-friendly culture” is an understandable obsession within AFL football. Female support is obviously pivotal to the code’s current and future success, from filling grandstands to driving TV ratings, to encouraging children on to the footy field to start with.
This fear of alienating women translates into hypersensitivity about player misconduct because the blokes in charge of footy clubs are convinced that women (read: “mothers”) want footballers to act as ‘role models’. This is the logic: while men understand that boys will be boys, women are quickly turned off by the kind of debauched behavior that is otherwise typical in red-blooded males of that age and stage: alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, imaginative sexual antics, and general skylarking.
This perception of “what women want” sets the bar impossibly high, but every single club plays along by promoting expectations of player conduct that they are bound not to reach. In their heart of hearts, of course, clubs also know this — mainly because the blokes in charge were once boozing and shagging their way through their own misspent youths. So clubs engage in harm minimisation to bridge the gap between perception and reality: in public, they feign shock and outrage at player antics; behind the scenes, they desperately scramble for ways to keep it under wraps, mostly with success. The public barely know a fraction of the unyielding shenanigans that constitute the average football player’s social and sex lives. Boom chikah, as the saying goes, wah wah.
But of course the public does know. Most sensible adults of either gender are well aware that young, fit, gorgeous and horny footballers are also generally very stupid. They know that this will lead to all kinds of eye-popping conduct that requires the Urban Dictionary to fully comprehend. But, like the clubs, we also play along, tut-tutting on cue and pretending to be horrified when it turns out that Fevola is a flasher, Riewoldt shaves his pubes, or Cousins snorts anything that isn’t larger than a human nostril. We are in on the scam. It suits everyone that way.
This is useful background to understanding why St Kilda have dug such a gaping hole for themselves over Dickileaks, although I am buggered if I know why they continue digging.
The tragic irony for the Saints and the AFL is that, in their desperate attempts to defend their “family-friendly” credentials, they have set on a course of action marked by shocking misogyny. The cynical mistreatment of the girl at the centre of the controversy will wreak havoc far worse to its credibility among women than a few scattered nude pics could ever achieve.
The comparison to Vatican cover-ups of sex abuse seems more and more apt. As with the Catholic Church, the institution of AFL football has lost its moral bearings over Dickileaks in the scramble to protect its reputation from outside attack. And, like the Vatican, the Saints (and the AFL and its flunkies in the media) become complicit in the crimes they seek to cover up.