Never one to stay out of the spotlight, Eddie McGuire has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. For those of you who might be unaware—all two of you—Eddie and his radio mates were discussing a charity fundraiser that involves being dunked in icy cold water.
During the discussion, Caroline Wilson, a well known sports journalist came up, and Eddie suggested that he would pay good money to have her held under the water. You can find the full story, and the transcript, quite easily online, and it doesn't make for pretty reading.
Setting aside for a moment Eddie's faux apology and Tony Shaw's tearful denial that he would ever advocate violence against women, this incident is another example of the way that much of sporting culture remains a boy's club. In the same week that the AFL is promoting its women's league, occurrences like these remind us that we still have a long way to go.
No Big Deal?
Various commentators, and a number of those involved, have tried to pass this off as nothing more than joking around, all in good fun. But, there was an undercurrent of nastiness about it, an air of the cool guys ganging up on someone that doesn't fit in, that belied that. Even if we did give them the benefit of the doubt, in a society endemic with violence against women, people with that platform should be careful of what they say.
Eddie McGuire is not some random call in listener, he is perhaps the most powerful man in Australian Rules football. If he thinks violence against women is a laughing matter, what does that say to all the young Collingwood fans listening to him?
But, what I think is the heart of this is that there is still a real "us versus them mentality" in sporting circles. Anyone who doesn't fit the mould is regarded with suspicion—and sometimes hostility. It isn't always directed against outsiders, I can think of plenty of examples of athletes who were talented enough to have played way more than they did, but just didn't quite fit in with the rest of the guys and were passed over for steadier types.
As society has moved on—or at least started to—and many roles that were once seen as the domain of men have opened up to women, you can almost sense the closing of ranks amongst some sportsmen and administrators. You can almost forgive someone like Arthur Tunstall being a bit hidebound, it's a different world than it was when he was young, but someone like Eddie should know better.
One Of The Boys
Women who come into these traditionally male arenas are faced with a difficult choice. For many, they almost need to out bloke the blokes, be one of the boys, be a good sport. When they refuse to laugh off snide comments or harassment, they are told they need to get a sense of humour, or that they are too sensitive—the worst insult a "real bloke" can level. Fancy being sensitive! So, they are forced to grin and bear it, laugh along even though they know they are being laughed at.
Or, the other acceptable role for a women is being a sex object. It might be the grid girls at the Grand Prix, or the girls holding the songs up at the start each round of a boxing match. They are there to be admired, or to make the man being interviewed feel good about himself.
Stepping Out of Line
It's when women dare to refuse to fit into these convenient niches that we see this undercurrent of hostility come to the surface. The women who call fellow panellists on their misogyny are bitches or humourless. Someone who tries to do a serious interview with a certain cricketer is put in her place as a potential conquest, as "babe". The one female panelist on a show about footy has her looks and sex life discussed as a matter of course.
And that's what Caroline Wilson did wrong. She made the mistake of asking men like Eddie McGuire hard questions, writing the wrong thing, instead of smiling and fluttering her eyelashes and bolstering their egos. She wouldn't play the game by their rules—so she deserves to punished.
A Fish Rots from the Head Down
There will be people thinking that I am taking all this far too seriously, that it's just a few jokes. But, as someone who plays amateur level sport, I can see where these jokes lead. It's the taunts that someone throws like a girl, or veterans saying they felt bad about getting a girl's wicket even though she was the highest scorer the week before. It's the goatish laughter that we heard from Eddie and his mates echoed in a thousand club rooms and pavilions across the country. After all, if Eddie does it, then it must be okay, right?
Until men at every level of sport—and I am just as complicit as anyone—start to take responsibility for ensuring that women have as much ownership as men, we are short changing everyone in the game and missing out on so much potential. Men like Eddie need to to lead from the front, and if they don't, the rest of us need call them to account.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html