Some professional sportsmen have a hide.
Not only do they have outrageous talent, push themselves as hard as physically possible, and totally dedicate themselves to their career away from the field of battle in areas such as diet and recovery, they have the audacity of having an opinion, an outgoing personality, and a willingness to publicly display it.
Some of them — shock horror — don’t go about their off-field business in a stoic, conservative, and ultimately boring-as-batdust fashion, which in the AFL media world full of stoic, conservative and ultimately boring as batdust types, is a big no-no.
If Michael Jordan had been plying his talents in the Australian rather than the American indigenous game, he would have been subjected to thumping editorials decrying his lack of team awareness in doing movies with Bugs Bunny, and letting his promotion of Nike and Gatorade “affect his focus” towards his sporting endeavours.
And in all probability, whichever club he played for would have assistant coaches, football department heads and media managers trying to “pull his head in” for what they would say is “the sake of the team” once media pressure was applied.
The reality of course, is that it is their own bacon they are trying to preserve when toeing such a conventional line; they are petrified that any fall-out would put pressure on them and their own position.
And in the well-paid world of AFL officialdom, today’s high-powered manager can be tomorrow’s out of work PE teacher.
So when future AFL hall-of-fame automatic inductee, Jason Akermanis turned on a blinder in his 300th game on Friday night, you could almost feel the gnashing of teeth amongst the keyboard bashers.
The three-time premiership player, dual best and fairest and of course, Brownlow medal winning former Brisbane Lion, reminded everyone under the Friday Night Lights that he was certainly not a spent force in the modern game, as his Western Bulldogs unluckily failed against the all-conquering Geelong Cats.
Yet typically “Aker” being “Aker” meant that a week of interview requests leading into such a significant milestone meant a week of talking about his favourite topic — himself — in his usual overt style, putting himself “everywhere” and answering anything put in front of him.
He even agreed to have a microphone placed on him during play, which was such a rare case of Channel Seven adding to the viewers’ pleasure, word has it that the Smithsonian Institute has been in touch.
Had he played badly, the racing certainty was the various columnist’s would have lined up to proclaim that all the media he did, along with the wire attachment “affected his focus” and “proved” he let it become an individual “distraction” during the week.
See, with Akermanis, no profile is complete without covering his controversial departure from the Lions and — much like his match winning positioning before his Grand Final nailing goal against the Collingwood Magpies in 2002 — that topic just had to be front and centre of any decent half-decent career retrospective.
So when Damian Barrett — a former Brisbane Courier Mail journalist who had the Lions beat when Akermanis was forging his path in the late ‘90’s and clearly has always had a good relationship with him – interviewed him last week for Melbourne’s Herald Sun, “Aker” was happy to go a step beyond the usual clichés and throw petrol on the embers of the story his departure, with triple-premiership team-mate and current Brisbane Lions assistant coach Justin Leppitsch in particular a source of ridicule in the article.
And you know what? Big deal!
Big deal that Akermanis doesn’t hold the same affection towards his premiership winning team-mates that footy romantics say he should, big deal that he speaks his mind, and for that matter, big deal that in the words of Wilson if he is indeed a narcissist in a team game.
This writer has no ties to Akermanis, but he does to former Hawthorn champion Shane Crawford, who he counts as a close friend. I worked closely with him at The Footy Show (1996-2004) where like “Aker” he was regularly slaughtered for being publicly unconventional in his approach.
In Crawford’s case, the ridiculousness reached its peak in 2003 when once a week — on his day off — he would spend the day at Channel Nine filming a silly (but bloody good fun and incredibly successful) soap-opera spoof The House of Bulger where Crawf played the lead figure “Hank Bulger”.
Yet the dull herd that is the AFL media started thundering the line that it was a “distraction” that was “affecting his focus” and that of his team-mates.
It was of course a crock of cr-p, but the man who four-time premiership winning coach David Parkin once described — if memory serves correctly — as the best prepared athlete he has ever seen, had to deal with allegations of lack of dedication, just because what he did in his spare time was public and humorous in nature.
To highlight the ridiculousness of it all, Crawford finished that year winning his club’s best and fairest and was just bloused in a vintage Brownlow medal. (This would have been his second for the fairest and best player in the competition.)
I say vintage because one vote separated six out-and-out champions. A triple dead-heat between Nathan Buckley, Adam Goodes and Mark Ricciuto, with Crawford, Gavin Wanganeen and Ben Cousins on the next line.
Unlike Crawford, I can’t tell you what the last named Cousins would get up to on his day off that year, but thankfully we know it wasn’t doing something dangerously life-altering like filming sketch comedy…
No Akermanis, like Crawford during his playing days, or even Sam Newman or Dermott Brereton when they were “outrageously” wearing coloured boots in the ’70’s and ’80’s, is only guilty of not being what the old guard want in a champion.
Footnote; Whether you’re an AFL nut or someone who can barely tolerate the game, a look at the mini-highlights Akermanis tribute posted on AFL.com.au during the week, underlines some of the bloke’s breathtaking talents. Whether he’s a narcissist or not.
“Racetrack” Ralphy Horowitz is a former producer at The Footy Show, Sunday Footy Show, SEN & 3AW.