For
most in Aussie Rules, it’s been a week like any other: training, media
commitments, new captains being appointed, all business as usual. But it has
also been a week in which the AFL displayed its human side.

It
started with Kevin Sheedy’s suggestion that Essendon and Richmond could play a practice match
in Mildura as an act of solidarity for a community mourning the loss of a group
of young lives. “Football
is a great sport but it also can be a great catalyst for bringing people
together. We hope the community can come together to support the grieving
families and friends of the young people who died,” League boss Andrew
Demetriou said when
announcing the match, scheduled for 17 March.

It
was also a week in which ex-Kangaroos and Swans great Wayne Schwass spoke
publicly about his battle with depression. Schwass revealed, perhaps
surprisingly to fans, he suffered from depression for most of his career, and
only now, four years after retirement, is he free of it. While his story is a
lesson in itself, one of his reasons for speaking up was to reach the broader
community.

“If
we address it at the elite level, we start to debunk the thinking that only the
weak or the flawed people get depressed. High-profile people are subject to it
too. By addressing it at the elite level, it reverberates very strongly in the
community,” he said on the 7.30 Report.

And
finally, today’s papers hold details of another Essendon-Richmond game with a
greater significance than four premiership points. As The Age reports,
the teams will play off in a “reconciliation” cup of sorts, with the clubs
donating proceeds from the game to Indigenous causes.

While
these stories will be swamped by reports of injury or spectacular marks by
Monday, it’s refreshing to see a sport like the AFL, now a multi-million dollar
business, standing alongside the fans like a mate rather than in front of them like
an out-of-touch, highly paid entertainer.

Peter Fray

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