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AFL player on football oval

Life after AFL pack mentality

If your employer told you to do something you thought was wrong, and possibly illegal, would you do it for the sake of the team, or speak up and risk your future with the organisation?

Few people are brave enough to challenge an employer’s questionable business practices. It’s even harder for members of teams that operate as rock-solid packs.

On 12 January, when Essendon Football Club Chairman Lindsay Tanner confirmed that the Court of Arbitration for Sport had found 34 past and present players guilty of committing an anti-doping rule violation, forcing them out of the game for an entire season, debate over who was to blame raged.

Deakin University Professor Chris Hickey has worked with the AFL Players’ Association and completed research into the AFL environment. He is the co-author of The Struggle for the Body, Mind and Soul of AFL Footballers and argues that fault lies with the AFL as a whole, which has ‘diluted the responsibility of the individual.’

It’s easy to ask why ‘all these seemingly bright players gave over to this,’ he says, but points to the pack mentality. It is a workplace issue that will require players to accept accountability for their actions, rather than ‘hiding behind the veil of the team,’ Prof. Hickey says.

As the impact of the verdict settles on the AFL, he predicts the demise of the ‘one in, all in,’ ethos that occurs at all clubs. But drastically altering cultural behaviour is a difficult task. ‘It will be a challenge for clubs to mobilise responsibility for individual actions,’ Prof. Hickey explains. ‘Now that players have to make responsible decisions as individuals, it will have ramifications for terms of employment.’

'Now that players have to make responsible decisions as individuals, it will have ramifications for terms of employment'

Professor Chris Hickey,
Deakin University

‘What’s important is how it will change the landscape – and it will be forever changed,’ Prof. Hickey concludes.

It turns out that from now on there might be an ‘I’ in team.

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Professor Chris Hickey
Professor Chris Hickey

Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
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