Public Enemy Number One

The media love a good story where they can slander the character of a high-profile player, and they love a good villain to drive that story. On Saturday afternoon, Jeremy Cameron provided them with the opportunity to run with both.

Running back with the flight, young Brisbane defender, and possible All-Australian contender,Harris Andrews left himself wide open, dropping into the space in front of the charging Jeremy Cameron, and making the spoil on the contest. It was the most courageous act in football. Many have lauded the exploits of Wayne Carey, Jonathon Brown and Nick Riewoldt for refusing to take their eyes off the ball, putting their personal safety second in the process, and making the contest their first priority.

Jonathon Brown paid for it in the latter stages of his career. He was labelled as having “dumb courage” by some in the media at the time, but Brown knew no other way of going about it. He did not consider his own welfare when attacking a contest, and he came off second best on more than one occasion

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That’s exactly what Harris Andrews did on the weekend. A player knows the risk of running with the flight of the ball. Andrews took that risk, and like Brown, he paid for it in a big way.

The collision with Cameron was sickening. The lifeless body of Andrews crashing to the turf elicited a collective groan from the crowd gathered at the GABBA, and it did not take long for the knives to come out for the Greater Western Sydney star from those with the loudest voices.

A “dog act” was a phrase thrown around with reckless abandon following the incident. It is one of the more mild terms used to describe Cameron and the collision itself. As Harris Andrews was stretchered from the ground, broadcasters, journos and infuriated pundits were already speculating as to how many weeks he’d receive. For some, nothing short of double figures would suffice. For others, a more common sense approach landed them at the figure of 4-5 weeks for the act.

But is the AFL once again punishing the result and not the actual act? When you take a close look at the incident, Cameron has only a split second to determine his course of action. He is airborne, and despite what others state (usually radio personalities who can get away with not using vision of the incident), he is very much in the contest.

From the time the ball is bounced, eight seconds transpire before contact. From the kick out of the centre by Tim Taranto, Cameron has three seconds to determine his course of action - he runs at the drop zone to mark the ball. Both he and Andrews leave their feet for the contest at exactly the same time. Andrews gets to the ball first. From the time Andrews makes contact with the footy, Cameron has less than half a second before the impact between the players takes place.

Less than half of one second.

Put it this way, if you had less than half of one second to turn your wheel and avoid a head-on car accident, there’d inevitably be a head-on accident. Half a second is nowhere near enough time to brake. Half a second is barely enough time to brace for impact. You may get the chance to turn your head and raise an arm to protect yourself.

Surprise, surprise – that’s what Cameron did.

When looking at the incident, you should forget about slow motion replays. The world does not operate in slow motion. Jeremy Cameron did not have the advantage of slowing things down to consider the options available to him. He may have taken a poor one by raising his arm, but I ask you – what other option did he have?

Had he opted to drop his arm, are we sitting here reading about how the courageous Jeremy Cameron was whilst injured in the marking contest. Some of us would also be wondering why he didn’t protect himself?

It is almost something that has been lost in modern football – the art of protecting yourself. There was a time in the not too distant past when, if you left yourself open, an opponent would more than likely take advantage of it and sit you on your backside. That was the best-case scenario. We’ve evolved as a game to the point where players take the care of each other into account when they contest a ball. Players stop when an opponent has their head down. Players don’t leave their feet to bump anymore. Players look after each other. This has become so common that when there is an unfortunate event such as the one that befell Harris Andrews, people start calling for blood, and label the person responsible for the action as less of a man for committing the act.

They’re wrong when they do that.

Jeremy Cameron did raise his arm, and his elbow did connect with the chin of Andrews. It is an illegal act, but to call it intentional would be wildly speculative, at best. At worst, it is a damning indictment of a player whose sole intention may have been to mark the ball and kick a goal for his team when he first left his feet.

To me, it looked as though Cameron was attempting to get to the ball and when he realised, in that “less than half a second” he  simply attempted to protect himself and brace for impact. He turned his head and raised his arm to protect his own head – this is called instinct. Think of the reaction you have when someone throws something toward you and you only see it out of the corner of your eye. And let’s just say you have… hmmmm… approximately a bit less than half a second to react. What is your reflex action? Arm up and turn your head away. You protect yourself.

When you compare something like the Cameron-Andrews incident to another that occurred on the weekend, it makes you wonder why one act can attract such universal hatred and hive-minded vitriol, and the other scoot by with barely a mention.

Dale Thomas had his charge of rough conduct graded as “careless conduct” despite the fact he blindsided Levi Greenwood, wasn’t in a contest of any sort when he committed the act, and really, had no intention of doing anything else other than laying him out. Have a look at the vision.

Thomas almost sneaks up on the unsuspecting Greenwood and hits him in the upper chest and head. If this wasn’t an intentional act, I don’t know what is. Greenwood is hurt, concussed, and sat out the remainder of the game. The umpire didn’t even call this a free kick.

Whilst Cameron is labelled a sniper by many, Thomas just casually slipped his gun back into his holster and played out the game.

Here’s the kicker – I actually don’t mind acts like the one Thomas got Greenwood with. I like physicality in our game even if it blurs the line between what is legal, and what is not. I want players to protect themselves and not be these oblivious space-cadets. I love the gladiatorial aspect of our game, but what I don’t like is a double standard that paints one man as a complete and utter super-villain whose sole intention it was to obliterate an up-and-coming young star, and another as a petty criminal who deserves a slap on the wrist for going a bit high and being “careless”.

Daisy Thomas can accept a one match ban for what was ostensibly a sneak attack on an unsuspecting opponent. Jeremy Cameron is looking down the barrel of a lengthy stay on the sidelines for failing to adjust in mid-air to a defender dropping in front of him.

Something about these two incidents, the way the media has latched onto one and neglected to report as diligently on another, and the disproportionate punishments is troubling.

I feel that Jeremy Cameron has been judged guilty before he even reaches the tribunal. There is no possible way he can walk out of there with anything less than a four week suspension (which I think is about fair for this, by the way).

The media loves a good story. The media loves a good villain. And the media loves presuming guilt until innocence is proven.

Jeremy Cameron’s fate is already decided. So is that of Dale Thomas. One is having his reputation tarnished. The other is having a week off to think about what a naughty boy he’s been.

 

And before I wrap up here, we at The Mongrel would like to wish Harris Andrews all the best as he recovers from this knock - we had you full back in our rolling All-Australian team!

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