Sport AFL Under the media microscope, life in the sporting fish bowl not as bad as it seems
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Under the media microscope, life in the sporting fish bowl not as bad as it seems

AFL players will have to get used to no fans at the footy. Photo: Getty Photo: Getty
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In life it is generally accepted that to do anything to the best of your ability, you must enjoy doing it.

It’s what we tell kids; do what you love and that will be the thing you are best at.

I am a firm believer that the above is true.

Which is why the conversation about footballers not enjoying playing at the highest level is a worry.

Or is it?

Talk to players about it and the first thing they bring up is the intense scrutiny placed on the modern-day footballer – both on their on-field performance and off-field activities.

Let’s look at on the field first.

Much has changed since the ‘good old days’ when the people at the ground were the only ones who judged whether you played well or not.

Statistics were confined to kicks, marks, handballs and goals.

Compare that to today’s oversaturated game-day assessments.

There isn’t a part of the game that is not counted, measured, tallied, calculated or compared.

There are more ways to determine a player’s effectiveness than ever before. Their performance is there, in black and white, for all to see; and for the football shows to dissect.

Where once a player could ride out a form slump with little outside scrutiny, in 2020 there is no hiding.

Unfortunately the added scrutiny doesn’t confine itself to on-field performances.

You can’t imagine the number of players who were caught drink-driving in the 1990s.

If it happened to the same extent today the league would almost shut down.

The sponsors would run for the hills and Gillon McLachlan’s hair would look more like Kevin Bartlett’s than Ron Burgundy.

In 2020 if a player puts even one toe out of line, the story will definitely hit the back of the papers and very likely the front as well.

Even a rookie player no one has heard of except his mum and his mates will be column-worthy if he gets caught driving at 45 in a 40 zone.

The majority of players will tell you that the only way to avoid the scrutiny is to hide away like hermits.

That going out in this era of the mobile phone camera and social media is too dangerous.

You can see how it would be safer to be locked away at home.

These are the arguments players make when telling us the game is no longer fun.

Just for balance, let me put an alternate view across.

How about, instead of concentrating on all the things that you can’t do and the privileges of normal society that have been taken away, try looking at the positives associated with professional football.

For one, you are getting paid extraordinary amounts of money compared to the average man your age.

The average wage is now $375,000 per season.

Secondly you get paid to be fit and are given every possible assistance to do so.

You certainly don’t have to squeeze gym time in among full-time work like all other health-conscious people.

You also get to run out on a field in front of thousands of adoring people and actually live the dream of every football-loving boy.

The day when you lose sight that you are living your dream is when you should give it up.

Add in the fact you go to work each day with 40 mates and have a laugh before hopping in your flash car that normal people your age can’t afford.

And if you feel like you have to be a hermit at least enjoy being a hermit in your house that normal people your age can’t afford.

And don’t underestimate the stress other people are under.

People who are trying to raise a family while earning minimum wage or as a single parent.

Or running a company where you are responsible for the jobs of hundreds of people.

If you’re worried about the added scrutiny that comes with the new age of stats, then be a better footballer.

Don’t stuff up so much or go through a game without a contested possession.

If you complain about the saturated coverage of the game, then get the AFLPA to reduce the media rights money – along with your share of it.

If you’re worried about cameras catching you doing something wrong when out with your mates then don’t do anything wrong.

It’s not that hard!

Sorry if this has turned sour, but my message to players who complain is ‘suck it up’.

Your glass is far more than half full and if you can’t recognise that, get your head out of your backside and take a look at the real world around you.

Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player