If you ever wondered what it felt like to be slapped with a wet lettuce leaf, then savaged by a dead sheep, put a call through to the West Coast Eagles hierarchy this morning.

Because a group of four club officials and five leading players – all good men and true, we’re sure – emerged from a meeting at AFL headquarters in Melbourne yesterday having been the victims of just such a mauling. It was so gruesome some observers said they had to turn away: blood on the walls, officials flayed mercilessly, yelling for mercy. Truly horrific.

One wonders why the Eagles weren’t tickled on their tummies with a featherduster as well.

Called in by the AFL Commission to explain the club’s disgraceful behaviour over the past six months – drug addiction, fraternizing with convicted criminals, sledging an opponent over a tattoo depicting his six-year-old daughter, an assault on a taxi driver, swearing on national TV, and that’s all we’ve got room for at the moment – West Coast chairman Dalton Gooding offered an apology. “We’ve been doing a lot of thinking … and a lot of reflection,” Gooding said.

And then, looking very earnest over his half-moon spectacles, commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick told a media conference the commission had accepted West Coast’s apology. And that was that. End of story. No fines or penalties of any kind. The Eagles were left to catch the flight back home, and lick the wounds inflicted by their pitiless flogging.

One wonders what an AFL club has to do to be fined or docked premiership points under the much-spouted rule 1.6, the one that governs conduct unbecoming and bringing the game into disrepute. The mind boggles at the depths of depravity players have to sink to before they’re found to have brought the game into disrepute.

Fitzpatrick of course offered up the mandatory stern warning. “The Eagles have been put on notice that if they appear before the Commission again they will be subject to the full force of the 1.6 rule of conduct unbecoming which can lead to a fine, suspension, loss of draft picks or premiership points,” he said, looking extra serious.

Importantly, though, the Commission asked the AFL executive to look at drawing up new rules regarding poor player behaviour. The West Coast horse has disappeared into the distance, and the stable door is swinging in the wind, but better late than never I suppose.

In sending the Eagles away with that stinging rebuke ringing in their pummeled ears, Fitzpatrick and the AFL missed an opportunity to make an unambiguous statement about player behaviour, and what is expected of young men representing their clubs, and the code. How could anyone not see the West Coast headlines of the past few months affecting the public’s perception of “the brand”, as AFL people now refer to the game?

If you want a fascinating insight into how the Eagles operate, get a copy of the Sunday Herald-Sun and read David Reed’s account of a telephone conversation he had with Eagles’ CEO Trevor Nisbett last week.

Threats and warnings of retribution, all liberally laced with the ‘f’ word, Nisbett’s tirade made for remarkable reading. Club chief executives are supposed to have some sort of statesmanlike quality. But fish, as they say, rot from the head. If Nisbett’s comments have been reported accurately, then West Coast’s problems may be deeper than any of us thought.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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