AFL TV Commentary Is Sexist, Boring, And Stuck In A Bygone Era – It Needs To Change

It’s a familiar tune by now: Every weekend the AFL rolls back onto screens. Every weekend games are called by the same pack of boring white farts. Nothing changes, nothing evolves, the same tired conversations are pushed weekend in/weekend out. It sucks, it’s boring as shit, it’s alarmingly sexist, and it needs to change.

Though the disquiet among fans has been growing steadily across the current season, last night’s Geelong vs Collingwood broadcast blew that hole wide open thanks to the completely unacceptable lauding of Collingwood midfielder Jordan De Goey, who returned to the side after being charged with sexual assault and indecent assault by Victoria Police on July 4th, stemming from an alleged incident that occurred in 2015. That allegation lead to the 24-year-old being removed from Collingwood’s senior side for just one game.

Throughout the course of the broadcast, Channel Seven’s commentary panel piled plaudits on De Goey, hailing him as the comeback kid of the century. The reverence afforded to him was akin to that of a war hero returning from battlefront. Time and time again the on-air broadcast team lavished him with overt praise. But the most galling moment of all came from veteran commentator Bruce McAvaney, who explicitly referred to De Goey’s sexual assault charge as “a hiccup.” McAvaney apologised following the game, but with the tried-and-true “for anyone that’s taken offence” caveat.

Remarkably enough, Collingwood’s official Twitter account not only chose to post that footage – with the line included – but even now, nearly 18 hours later, the post remains live.

Jordan De Goey is facing serious criminal charges and, in the eyes of the law, is innocent until proven guilty. That due process means he doesn’t need fawning media backing of the Collingwood Football Club – itself a boorish cult more concerned with dictating what colours another club wears than any meaningful self-reflection despite the mountain of cause to do so – or the Thursday Night Football team providing on-air character references. But he gets it anyway.

In the affectedly principled pursuit of broadcast impartiality, Seven’s commentary culture has veered disastrously off-course. It has developed Munchausen by proxy towards the players it covers. They are good boys, all. They must be protected. They do no wrong, they bring no harm, and they are terribly persecuted by any accusations that manage to pierce the bubble.

What is presented as an even-handed approach is anything but. It’s presenting one side, quite aggressively. Victims of sexual assault – alleged or otherwise – don’t get nationally broadcast commentary championing their cause. They aren’t lauded in post-match coverage, spoken about at-length in analytical breakdowns, marvelled at for their strength and resilience.

The test for broadcasters seeking true centrism in these instances is to be presented the option to speak on – or about – an accused, and to choose to say nothing instead. It’s a test Seven’s commentary team fails routinely.

It’s a knock that doesn’t stop at last night’s game, either.

It is unconscionable that we are tolerating Wayne Carey as on-air talent in 2020. It is an unfathomable, mind-boggling decision to allow him that platform. Carey has a laundry list of indiscretions that includes, but is certainly not limited to, pleading guilty to indecent assault in 1997 for grabbing a passing stranger’s breast in a Melbourne street, assaulting a female police officer in Miami in 2007 after they responded to call regarding Carey allegedly glassing a girlfriend, and providing character evidence for notorious Melbourne gangland figure Jason Moran.

Carey’s indiscretions were so bad that he was fired from his former commentary jobs at 3AW and the Nine Network in 2008. And yet now we’re supposed to just forget all about it. Water under the bridge. We are living in a world where we have collectively decided shitty behaviour from historically terrible men is no longer acceptable, and yet Wayne Carey is mystifyingly being afford the most egregious free pass. It’s shocking. It’s unacceptable. It benefits no one and hurts so many.

Therein lies the Boys Club mentality that poisons so much of what’s great about football; this pervasive, insidious idea that broadcast impartiality means affording the benefit of the doubt to those who neither need nor deserve it.

All this is a product of Seven’s gatekeeping strategy when it comes to hiring on-air personalities. It’s a world accessible only to those who are have either been in there for decades already or who have recently retired from their AFL careers.

In any given game Seven’s AFL commentary panel is comprised almost entirely of loud goons stuck in a bygone era. Brian Taylor, chief among them, spends large chunks of every game openly pining for his halcyon days where players could break jaws behind play and be left unchallenged. It’s remarkable that a man whose life has been defined by football, and whose job it is to call it, understands so little about how the modern game is played and proudly exhibits no desire to learn. And that says nothing about his past record, which includes using an overt homophobic slur on national TV just six short years ago. That, again, was an incident that warranted a forced apology at the time.

Even the sports journalists Seven employs as on-air “newsbreakers” – a loose term defining a standard of journalistic best practices that doesn’t rise much above muckraking, speculation, and gossip – are an atrocious group; self-important trolls tallying coach firings on their desks like a World War II bomber. In an industry race to the bottom, Seven’s on-air footy journos are wearing lead shoes. It’s a farcical circus watching this play out in real time; industry professionals writing about the bounce of a ball, but collectively carrying on like they’re covering the Arab Spring.

Tom Browne, in particular, is a strong stand-out in an on-air team where success is little more than failing upwards. Regularly poleaxed on social media for a lack of due diligence in fact-checking, Browne this week was hammered for presenting this take on Twitter.

That’s a news blast that would’ve been impressive had Carlton not confirmed it themselves two whole days prior.

On the list of bum notes Seven has struck, pisspoor fact-checking quite obviously pales in comparison to aiming excessively favourable commentary towards a man facing sexual assault charges. But it’s all part of the same godawful tune.

It’s a shame, really, that this extraordinary game is so poorly served by this stale, harmful bullshit. It’s hard to see it changing any time soon, though. At the end of the day, boys will be boys.