The recent retirement of Tyrone Vickery from the Hawthorn Football Club has placed a spotlight on the treatment of footballers on social media. AFL Players Association Chief Executive, Paul Marsh has gone public with his concern over what he termed “an alarming trend towards scapegoats and whipping boys.”
If there was ever an AFL whipping boy, Ty Vickery was one. He was drafted at pick 8 in 2008, which comes with a certain number of expectations. He’s not the first high draft pick to fail to live up to them. Jack Watts, drafted number 1 overall that same year has been under intense scrutiny his whole career to date. Jarrad Grant was pick 5 the year before, and was a much-maligned player for the entirety of his career as well before his delisting by Gold Coast at the conclusion of the 2017 season.
Was the criticism of Vickery justified? His career comprised of 125 games – that in itself is an achievement. 119 were played for Richmond before moving to Hawthorn 12 months ago.
There was a collective groan from Hawthorn supporters when Vickery was signed, coinciding with a sigh of relief from Tiger fans. Those optimists (myself included) thinking that he’d have a new lease on life at the Hawks, akin to the one David Hale enjoyed when he arrived at the club, were quickly silenced. In Vickery’s 6 games in the brown and gold, he averaged 10 touches, but kicked a total of only 2 goals. The Hawks brought him in to play forward, and he failed to convert. He did not play a senior game after Round 11.
If great power comes with great responsibility, so too does the selection of a top 10 draft pick. The three players taken directly after the Tigers selected Vickery were Jack Ziebell, Phil Davis and Steele Sidebottom – two AFL captains, and a reigning Collingwood best and fairest winner. Drafting a player isn’t a perfect science, but it’s fair to say the Tigers got it wrong in ’08. In their defence, they’ve got plenty right since.
Marsh stated that he believes the condemnation Vickery received during his career was linked to the position he was drafted, and thinks the level of criticism Vickery received was unfair. Whilst it is true that Vickery is in no way responsible for where he got drafted, or by whom, he has been responsible for his own performances. Many were sub-par.
Richmond fans had long lamented Vickery’s play. Standing 2 metres tall, Vickery averaged over 5 marks per game only once in his career – in 2013. As poor as that seems, it compares favourably with a player like Nic Naitanui, who is yet to average over 3 marks per game in his career. It makes you wonder why Vickery was so maligned, yet people are still firmly in the camp of Naitanui despite the Eagles using the second overall pick on him the same year Vickery was drafted.
It may come down to the fact that Nic Nat has been able to do things Vickery simply wasn’t able to. Naitanui is an athlete, and has proven to be a match-winner. He may not be a reliable mark, but he can do many other things. Big Ty was a plodder in a game that was quickly leaving plodders behind.
The current matter at hand is the social media abuse. In an age where technology is now King, Twitter has emerged as the equivalent of the front bar at your local pub on a busy night. People exchange thoughts and emotions in the Twitter-verse medium as the game unfolds. They vent their frustrations when a decision does not go their way or when a player does not perform. They connect with each other and find those who think similarly, or contrarily. Twitter gives voice to their exasperation when a player doesn’t perform. It’s their outlet.
Nothing much has changed in terms of the way people react, or the kind of frustrations they feel in relation to footy – it’s just that people are able to share these feelings way more readily than they once were. It turns out a lot of people felt the same way about Vickery.
There will always be idiots that take things too far. Insulting a man’s family, his sexuality, race, colour or creed are, and should be off-limits. Wishing harm on someone is frowned upon as well. Cutting edge humour can be hit or miss. It is accepted as good natured ribbing, but it’s very clear when it’s vitriolic. Social media can be good at self-regulating maliciousness at times, and not so good at others.
In theory, all of the above should have no impact on the way someone plays once they cross that white line. We've heard a lot of athletes speak about the sporting arena as their sanctuary; where nothing else matters but the contest. On-field performance is one area that is, will, and should always be available for scrutiny by the public. People draw good wages scrutinising the game and those in it. Some don’t even really cover the game, itself.
As fans, you should always retain the right to voice your disapproval of the way someone is playing. Whether you think they’re being used incorrectly, or that they don’t look fit enough, or you feel that their commitment is not commensurate with that of the rest of your team – it is part and parcel of supporting a club to voice it. As a supporter, you have your ups and downs, and you celebrate the ups just as much as you lament the downs. These highs and lows are just now heard by so many more people. The world is now your front bar… and it is as busy as it’s ever been.
We live in a society where everything you say and do is monitored. If you’re in the public eye, you’re watched, and if you slip up and take a fall, the vultures immediately start to circle. The head of the AFLPA, and even Vickery’s junior coach have pointed the finger of blame at online trolls. Perhaps those trolls are too readily lumped in with emotional fans on social media, as the lines can sometimes blur. However, it might serve them well to increase the scope of that blame to capture the mainstream media as well. They are far from blameless.
Reporters who classify themselves as news breakers rarely stick to reporting on what happens on the field. It’s the gossip, the scandal and the innuendo that sells newspapers. They use social media as craftily as anyone. They will report a dozen stories on the life of Jake Stringer, interview his ex-partner and publish pieces on how his life has supposedly unravelled. A few weeks later they’re happily publishing pieces laying blame for a player’s psyche on individuals espousing an opinion or creating a meme online. Individuals don’t get their opinions printed on the front page of the Herald Sun – reporters do.
Everyone is always looking for someone or something else to blame for a failure. Tyrone Vickery’s tenure at Hawthorn was devoid of highlights. He played 6 games for them. The fact of the matter is that he would’ve played more, and might still be playing in 2018, if he just played better football. AFL fans, it’s not your fault.
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