I have played Australian Rules football since I was 12 years old. Now I am not as quick as I used to be; the mind is definitely way ahead of my body.
I remember back to the days of getting into fights on the footy field. A bit of push and shove, a few choice words and put the head down and go again and again and again to try and win the football. I received a few stitches along the way, a nose that points the wrong way, and knuckles that remain swollen and hurt during the winter months.
I was not a thug. I remember a couple of all in brawls, which were mayhem and got out of control. In one Grand Final in Mackay I played in, the brawl spilled over the sideline. Lots of punches thrown with not many connected. I remember getting out of the fight after awhile, turned to two of the younger blokes I was looking after on the half back flank (I think they were only about 16) and saying, "Let's just get the ball and play on!"
If you remember Barry Gomersall, the famous State of Origin referee, allowing play to continue during the 80s while fights broke out, you will know what this might have looked like, even in an Australian Rules match- three blokes running with the ball trying to kick a goal while a brawl is taking place can be quite amusing. I wish the umpire had let us continue rather than chase us down!
Yet, after the game, the doors between the two sheds were opened, we sat side by side with our opponents and shared a drink after the game. No retribution. No revenge. A few laughs and we moved on. We lost the game, we might have won the fight, but that was footy.
We knew where the hits were coming from in those days. We stood up for our mates, but we didn't think about king hits, coward punches or creeping up behind someone just for the thrill of knocking a bloke's head off.
We live in a society that has changed for the worse. Alcohol fuelled violence is not a media beat up. It is all too common. I saw fights on and off the field. Push and shoves would happen out in the clubs and out on the town. Most of the footy blokes I have ever been associated with would do anything for their team mates and others. They would stand in the way of a fight, but you would know who you didn't "agree" with. We are a lot older now and still would do the same.
Real life stories
But just over two years ago the AFL community in Queensland lost 53 year old "Wolfie" to a coward punch attack. He was involved in trying to stop an argument in a taxi queue, told a young bloke to "Let it go", and "Wolfie" lost his life as a result.
This week, a 65-year-old died in hospital after he was allegedly assaulted trying to help a woman in Toowoomba. Norman Olsen was driving with his partner in the suburb of Wilsonton when police say he saw a woman being attacked by a young man in an alleged domestic dispute.
The Vietnam veteran tried to intervene but was allegedly pushed to the ground by a 22-year-old, who has since been charged with manslaughter.
As I wrote earlier, in my younger days I did get into my fair share of scraps and fights on the footy field. My footy mates over the years could detail much bigger fights and brawls they got in, on and off the field. But they knew where the punches were coming from. There would not be many of them, who are now well into their 40s, who would not stop and try and help a woman in distress or diffuse a situation.
Is it worth it though if it could mean losing your life?
Can we as older men not stand up for the vulnerable or the weak?
Is it wrong to "make a stand" or "be strong" or "be a man" without having to resort to punches to prove only the one who hits the hardest is right?
We can no longer fight or punch or wrestle like we did in the old days, but most footy players hate seeing injustice or people not being able to defend themselves. That's how we were brought up as men and as team mates. A show of force did not always mean, let's knock this guy out cold and hope he never gets up. But again, we were always willing to face the attacker without any fear of an unseen punch or set upon by a group with no chance of defence.
Word of wisdom
There is much some wisdom in Jesus' teaching when he said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." The Bible tells us that, "You will reap what you sow."
You want to fight, well, expect people to fight back.
But using words to diffuse a situation, or to stand in the way of someone getting hurt you would think would be enough to stop any situation from exploding and causing the death of someone who is only trying to help.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.
Russell Modlin's archive of previous article can be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/russell-modlin.html