What footy teaches us about society

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Every AFL season is dotted with historic moments that take place on and off the field, but the 2015 season had more off-field issues than most. The media’s invasive speculation about Buddy Franklin’s private health concerns and the unsportsmanlike booing of Adam Goodes made for a tumultuous home-and-away season.

When footage of a punter striking a spectator at the Hawthorn-Fremantle game went viral after the preliminary final, the spotlight once again shone on footy for all the wrong reasons. Former AFL player and coach David Parkin says football has become so much more than just a sport – according to him ‘it’s a professional entertainment business’. This particular form of entertainment gets people riled up, though. Where there’s a crowd of passionate fans, there’s inevitably going to be unruly actions.

But to what extent should the AFL be held accountable for public behaviour? ‘We saw some of the most idiotic behaviour I’ve ever seen in Perth. That upsets me, but it’s a mirror of our society,’ Parkin says. Indeed, the game that unites us can also serve as a barometer for where we’re at as a nation. And if this year’s lowlights are anything to go by, we could all stand to do a lot better.

'We saw some of the most idiotic behaviour I’ve ever seen in Perth. That upsets me, but it’s a mirror of our society.'

David Parkin,
Former AFL player and coach

But Parkin says there were plenty of redeeming moments in 2015, too. He reflects on the way the football community responded to Phil Walsh’s death: ‘To see two opposition teams bow their heads in silence and come together as a family shows that there are always those balances.’

Parkin urges disenchanted football fans to remember the positive things the AFL does for our culture. ‘The AFL gets a lot of criticism but they do a lot more good than is communicated via the media,’ he says.

The AFL veteran has attended a remarkable 68 Grand Finals in a row and seen the game as a spectator, a player, a coach and a commentator. He knows that this Saturday, all of the year’s messy bits will be put aside for a few hours. From the first bounce of the shiny red Sherrin to the moment a team claims victory, it’ll only be about the game. ‘The atmosphere is second to none in Australian sport,’ he says and adds, ‘I hope like hell that Hawthorn wins.’

Former AFL player and coach David Parkin is a sports industry mentor renowned for the development of Deakin’s Sport Coaching course, the first of its kind in Australia. In 2012 Deakin established the annual David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change to honour Parkin’s contribution to sport, leadership and education.

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