Barely a day old, and the 2022 men’s AFL season has its first media scandal. This time, involving Fox Footy senior reporter Tom Morris. A land speed record, even by their own standards.
Following the Western Bulldogs loss to reigning premier Melbourne in Wednesday night’s season opener, Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge launched a fairly extraordinary spray at Fox Footy journo Tom Morris in a post-game press conference. Beveridge accused him of “gutter journalism,” claiming he was deliberately attempting to destabilise the Bulldogs, and raised questions of conflict of interest before attempting to kick him out of the conference (unsuccessfully). Beveridge then abruptly ended proceedings early.
In the uproar that followed, Beveridge was (in some regards rightly) hung out to dry by all and sundry in football media. His actions were harangued as unprofessional, his conduct was widely condemned, and op-eds on the matter even called his mental health into question.
On social media, it went further. Colleagues across the football media spectrum rallied around Morris as the central victim in the saga. Beveridge issued an official apology the following day, and the Bulldogs themselves issued a $20,000 donation to charity as a gesture of good will.
And then, the leaks emerged.
Videos taken from a WhatsApp group chat soon emerged on social media, allegedly containing audio footage of Morris making seemingly sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, and deeply grot comments about a female Fox Footy colleague. Another video, allegedly taken of Morris mingling amongst fans at the MCG, contained comments attributed to Morris that appear to have been racist in tone.
Morris was swiftly “stood down” from his position at Fox, with the broadcaster issuing a short statement asserting: “Fox Sports has stood down a reporter pending an investigation regarding an inappropriate audio recording. While it is not appropriate to comment further, Fox Sports is committed to a workplace where everyone feels safe, respected and valued.”
And suddenly, the broad collective voice that had so resolutely stood in solidarity with Morris not 24 hours prior was nowhere to be seen.
No broad scale outrage from footy media’s rank and file for the alleged horrendous treatment of a female colleague. No self-reflection on an environment that could be views as breeding such bullshit. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
For a league that is trying so very hard to pull itself into a new era, the legacy media arm shoved up its ass is trying its hardest to hold it back.
What little does it say of the industry as a whole that it seems to promote such brazen boys boys boys shit into its most prominent positions. The absolute gall of the established guard to go to ground as the Morris story breaks – reporting it at arm’s length, fact filtered through rigid wording – while simultaneously accepting a standard of “quality” newsbreaking that frequently relies on hanging a headline on rumour and scuttlebutt and just hoping it winds up being right.
AFL media has long been crook; sick with carbon copy ex-players and tenured old fucks who may as well occupy squares on the same block of Dream. Its most radical move towards true equality in eons has been to force Wayne Carey – arguably the poster child for everything wrong with how the men’s league wields its media platform – out of the coveted Friday Night Footy slot only to drop him into the virtually identical Saturday Night Footy team.
The standard they collectively walk by may well be the one they accept. It’s just that apparently they’re happy for it to be brutish, nasty, and virtually inhospitable for anyone unlike themselves.