In the past month, one of the greatest sportsmen to ever play Australia’s own brand of football has ‘liked’ a homophobic and racist Instagram post by Israel Folau and raised his elbow to hit two players in separate weeks. For what punishment? Some boos that have been widely condemned.
Gary Ablett Junior, despite his increasing age, is at the pinnacle of his AFL career. He won two premierships with Geelong, had two Brownlow Medals placed over his bald head and then left for the new expansion team in Gold Coast with a reasonable pay packet and the promise of captaincy. He is one of the most recognisable AFL players going around – his family have heavy involvement in the game. His return to Geelong last year sparked more popularity and adoration. Here was just a quiet, well-spoken man who was unbelievable at what he did.
But this year something has changed.
Ablett has been in a purple patch of form, yet he has never created so many controversial headlines as he has in the last few weeks. It’s not just because he is part of the ladder-leading Geelong team who have only lost one game. For once, his off-field life landed him in hot water. Then, the past two games have seen him star but also land in hot water with the Match Review Officer because he has purposely raised his elbow into the head of two different opponents.
For the next generation of AFL footballers and humans alike, do we support this? He is an amazing player – one of the best the game may ever see. But what are his current actions teaching young people in how to go about social media, football and life?
Should NAB Auskickers be allowed to sit and watch Ablett forcefully collide into players with his elbow raised to intentionally make contact to their head without consequence? Considering North Melbourne’s Sam Durdin received a one-match ban for a perfectly executed bump that resulted in an accidental head clash with Gary Rohan, our next generation of footballers may begin to raise elbows and not use their hips and shoulders.
Ablett’s boos were initially harsh. Is our world so sensitive that we’ll boo someone for their perspective, or for a like on social media? But his brutal elbows in the past two matches have built upon the public’s dislike. Ablett is a wonderful player and someone we love to watch. But because of this, he holds responsibility. Children look up to him nationwide and will model themselves off his behaviour. It’s uncomfortable to consider that one of the key role models for young Aussies has supported hateful posts and purposely tried to inflict serious damage on hapless opponents.
Members of the football media have said Ablett wasn’t sanctioned for his on-field behaviour because he is a champion who has won numerous AFL accolades. But does his talent and ability make him ineligible for punishment if he behaves poorly? Andrew Gaff got slaughtered for his punch on Andrew Brayshaw last year. One-punch campaigns have been immensely popular after the death of local footballer Patrick Cronin. Yet Ablett decided to elbow an opponent in the head. Not once, but twice. He was lucky to have his initial ban cleared by the Tribunal. Then he decided to replicate the action.
What does this teach young Australian citizens? Can you elbow people in the head on the footy field and potentially risk their life, yet not receive any consequences for it?
If a child saw this and did it in a game of junior footy, he would be red-carded and suspended. So why hasn’t Ablett received a similar penalty? Arguably, his actions could influence young footballers around the nation to inflict acts of violence upon unaware opponents. Is that what the AFL wants to breed in our grassroots football community? And this doesn’t even include his like on Israel Folau’s ignorant Instagram post.
It could all be an anomaly, but currently, Gary Ablett is a polarising figure in footy with reason. Maybe he’s not the person children and teenagers should be wishing to emulate.