sam kerr shoulder charges pitch invader
Sam Kerr (Image: Paul Terry/Sportimage via PA Images)

Sam Kerr, Australian women’s soccer team captain and arguably the best football player in the world, executed a perfect shoulder charge to drop a pitch invader over in the UK (where she plays for Chelsea), putting him on his arse and earning a standing ovation from the crowd. (It also got her a yellow card from the referee, presumably for “ungentlemanly conduct”.)

I imagine many people shared my immediate reaction: give her a medal, make her Australian of the Year. Her act was a physical representation of what current incumbent Grace Tame has been giving verbally to idiot men all this year: a good ol’ fashioned don’t argue. Could anything be, according to our cherished self-image, more Australian than Sam Kerr’s shoulder charge of the pitch invader?

Ah, but brace yourself for the think-piece counter-arguments: first, violence is bad always, n’est-ce pas? More to the point, what if she’d been a bloke and the pitch invader a woman? All hell would be breaking loose right now; he’d be getting cancelled faster than Mark Latham can say “feminazi”.

These points are not illegitimate. Nor is it wrong, per se, to watch the video of Kerr delivering her coup de grace to the smirking fool and feel unalloyed joy. What, properly, are to we to make of this?

The standard ethical position on violence — whether retaliatory, righteous or not — is that it is unjustifiable except in either self-defence or defence of the defenceless. Otherwise violence is reserved exclusively to the state, which defends us collectively. Once we begin allowing for exceptions the slippery slope runs all the way down to the gladiatorial equivalent of Love Island.

Then, however, there are Nazis, and the controversial but (in my view) well-justified argument that it is always OK to punch them. The basis for that principle is, essentially, look what happens when you don’t.

The motivations and impacts of your average football pitch invader are a long way from genocidal totalitarianism, so it’s difficult to find a general principle which supports Kerr’s action. She wasn’t in any personal danger, nor was anyone else; there was security (albeit way less effective than her), and the only immediate downside risk was delay to the game.

In truth, Kerr’s decision looked very much like it was not so much provoked by the present circumstances but inspired by symbolism: the symbolism of this entitled male, and the symbolism of her iconic, female response.

The positive audience reaction, I suspect, falls into two camps: one is applauding Kerr for doing precisely what the archetype of a no-nonsense Aussie would; the other is cheering her as a feminist warrior declaring “Enough!” by body rather than words.

In that sense, this may be a rare moment of happy intersection between two powerful social forces in Australian society, strong enough to overcome the arguments of the ethical purists and the reactionary right.

Like Tame, who has spent this year riding straight over the top of the conventions of what an Australian of the Year is supposed to be (grateful, compliant, photogenically silent) and delivering what-fors to all and sundry, Kerr simply went for the kidneys: niceties aside, fuck this shit.

For all that, it’s tricky still. We do not want to encourage self-help to the point of vigilantism, because that way really does lie a society that looks a lot like a Trump rally in Alabama.

But, as we all instinctively know, life is not an ethics symposium. Sometimes we see something that may be difficult to reconcile entirely, yet it feels harmlessly right. I suspect Sam Kerr has hit that sweet spot, in a manner as perfectly timed and placed as her shoulder charge.