When the full, gory details of Glenn McGrath’s mid-pitch sledging of West Indian batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan were made public four years ago, those people not acquainted with the subtleties of modern sport were outraged to the point of apoplexy. Talkback radio was jammed with calls from people asking: so this is what goes on out in the middle, so these are the tactics our national heroes resort to when the microphones are turned off and they are trying to win a Test match?

The exchange hardly makes for edifying reading but for those who’ve forgotten the very un-Socratic dialogue, here it is again:

McGrath to Sarwan: ‘’What does Brian Lara’s d-ck taste like?’’

Sarwan: ”I don’t know, ask your wife.’’

McGrath, walking to within touching distance of Sarwan: ”If you ever f-cking mention my wife again, I’ll f-cking rip your f-cking throat out.’’

Sledging of all sorts has dogged cricket and football and just about any other topline sport you’d care to name since WG Grace first sprouted bumfluff. But it’s generally been of a fairly benign nature and certain topics have been accepted as being off-limits.

Yet if what West Coast player Adam Selwood is reported to have said to Fremantle’s Des Headland on Saturday is correct, then sledging – as it’s euphemistically known – has plumbed new depths. Nothing now is sacred. Even the six-year-old daughter of an opponent is considered fair game.

Headland has a tattoo of his daughter, Madisan, on his left arm. In papers filed by Fremantle with the AFL yesterday, Headland is believed to have alleged that Selwood motioned to the tattoo during Saturday night’s game and said: ‘’I f-cked her last night.’’

Headland allegedly responded: ‘’What the hell are you talking about? She is my six-year-old daughter.’’

He alleges Selwood then said: ‘’Yes. She is a slut. I f-cked her last night.’’ Selwood has denied the allegations.

Read the newspapers and listen to talkback radio today and the sense of outrage, the sense that a basic tenet of community decency has been violated, comes over loud and clear. And it wasn’t just mums leading the charge. One man said if his 22-year-old daughter was ever spoken about like that when she was six, the offender would still be recovering in hospital. Another man said his Melbourne-based family had spent $20,000 last season supporting the Eagles as they followed them around Australia. They have fired off an email to the membership department this morning saying enough is enough, we now want nothing to do with the club, please cancel our four memberships immediately.

The West Coast Eagles public relations man – they do have one, don’t they? – now surely has the toughest gig in Australia. Tougher than Kenny the portaloo man going on duty at the Delhi Commonwealth Games launch. Tougher than the morale officer at the NSW Liberal Party.

For the AFL’s premiership club has lurched from one disaster to another since winning the flag almost seven months ago. Chad Fletcher has a near-death experience in Las Vegas after ingesting an illegal substance while on an end-of-season trip. Former captain Ben Cousins is then suspended by the club for an ‘’ice’’ addiction, Daniel Kerr fronts court for assaulting a taxi driver then is found to have had a phone conversation with a convicted drug dealer that was intercepted by Victorian police, then silly Michael Braun drops the ‘f’ bomb to a national TV audience on Saturday. And just when we thought the club could sink no lower, up pops Selwood and his charming (alleged) contribution.

As this column has noted on more than one occasion, many West Coast players have long been a law unto themselves, their behaviour unchecked by lily-livered officialdom and coaches who have contrived the lamest of excuses in covering for ‘’their boys’’. Surely now the time has come for a seismic shift in attitude. Strong leadership is desperately needed to cure the club of its arrogant bogan culture – and it is needed fast. Otherwise the Eagles run the danger of having their 2006 premiership carry an asterisk beside it in the AFL record books: won by the best players in the most abominably-behaved club.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey