The startling interview of Matt Rendell on Channel 9 has thrown light onto a problem the AFL may have in indigenous affairs.
The conversation Rendell is quoted as having with Jason Mifsud, regarding the development of disadvantaged U16 youth players in order to prepare them for the rigours of the AFL system, is starkly different to whatever is being reported by Andrew Demetriou and other various media outlets.
This is a two-part problem: the handling of racism allegations within the AFL and by the media, and the AFL’s awareness of Aboriginal issues when dealing with being in the AFL system.
The handling of the situation by the AFL is very poor, to say the least.
The AFL suggests that Rendell was offered the chance to retract his statement and he refused, while Rendell insists no further discussion of the statement ever occurred.
Furthermore, the AFL refused to discuss the context of the comment made by Rendell, while Rendell brought out the whole conversation surrounding the quote at hand.
The problem is a failure by the AFL to recognise context. This is not a racial abuse situation, as seen with Justin Sherman’s slur upon a Gold Coast Suns player in 2011.
Rather, we’re looking at a gentleman who was seeking to improve the lot of Aboriginal kids entering the AFL system, and was using this statement to suggest what could occur if the AFL did not act on Aboriginal youth development.
The AFL in this case have recognised a media bite and moved on it, allowing the mud to stick, seemingly without giving Rendell a chance to prove himself.
Furthermore, this is a problem regarding the treatment of staff within the AFL system. Players could not be sacked over such an incident, as seen with Justin Sherman: they are fined, suspended and ordered to sensitivity programs.
The same would surely happen with a coach, and other slurs deemed to be over the line, such as in the Mick Malthouse-Stephen Milne case, have resulted in sanction.
However, backroom staff are not afforded this luxury. Rendell was not given a chance to defend himself, and was forced out by Steven Trigg.
In the average workplace, any incident of such seriousness generally allows both parties the chance to explain themselves before action is taken. Rendell had no such chance, and was not allowed to speak to his accuser and understand where he may have stepped over the line.
However, the most tragic part of all this would be if the AFL ignored Rendell’s proposal because of the drama surrounding this statement.
Rendell’s proposal, on the fundamental level, is very good. Give these kids an education, get them used to life in the AFL system through the use of the TAC Cup and ease their transition.
Worst comes to worst, they come out with a good education with which they can hopefully move forward in life. It’s a great idea, and would surely help to deal with the high-profile recruit departures and problems of recent times.
It’s not just one or two players: in the last few years, we’ve seen Nathan Krakouer, Andrew Krakouer, Liam Jurrah, Austin Wonaeamirri and Troy Taylor all have significant problems, and they have been the high profile players.
If there is a chance to aid young players of this kind of talent in order to see their skills on a footy field, we should be doing everything we can.
Instead, we’re destroying a man’s career over a single statement.