AFL on damage limitation over sex, drugs and violence

Conference call: AFL bigwigs Simon Lethlean and Gillon McLachlan before the scandal. Pictures: Getty Images
Conference call: AFL bigwigs Simon Lethlean and Gillon McLachlan before the scandal. Pictures: Getty Images

Sex, drugs and violence.

Welcome to a particularly sordid episode of life at the AFL.

Senior staff resign for having affairs, another goes for fighting before the self-confessed stopper of the buck in the Essendon supplements saga gets asked to present one of the game’s most prestigious accolades.

Even by the high standards of AFL House, the levels of hypocrisy and spin have been off the scale.

Donald Trump could learn a lot about crisis control from Gillon McLachlan.

The AFL CEO has been in damage limitation mode and, it has to be said, he’s a natural.

He dealt with the league’s latest scandal in the customary manner – by putting out a press release.

What it said between the lines is far more informative than what was on them.

The opening line was: “The AFL that I want to lead is a professional organisation based on integrity, respect, care for each other and responsibility.”

This translates as: “Two of my staff have been caught with their pants down.”

Looking back: Former Essendon coach James Hird has been given a call by the AFL.

Looking back: Former Essendon coach James Hird has been given a call by the AFL.

McLachlan went on to detail how he had accepted the resignations of AFL general managers Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss.

“This has occurred following issues that have fully come to light over the past few days.”

Translation: “It’s been splashed all over the Herald Sun.” 

He praised both men for their honesty and for taking ownership of their mistakes and waxed lyrical about the AFL’s “journey” to a more equal and respectful workplace. 

Such spin had not been seen since Old Trafford 1993 courtesy of another dishy Melbourne tweaker.

McLachlan’s statement concluded: “This weekend, our 18 clubs will again take the field, and everyone who works in our industry must not forget that the game, our fans, our clubs and our people are our first and last responsibility.”

Tell that to the Essendon 34.

Just a few days after diversity manager Ali Fahour had also left the AFL for dishing out the sort of punishment that floors Manny Pacquiao, McLachlan followed page two of the damage limitation manual by calling a press conference.

Questioned about the AFL’s transparent cultural problems, he said the AFL had no transparent cultural problems. In fact, he said the events had underlined the AFL’s accountability even though the AFL had only demonstrated any accountability once the affairs had been exposed in the press.

He did, however, admit that the AFL’s image was “a work in progress”.

So is Trump’s presidency.

Of late, the AFL has grandstanded on its sudden desire to involve a gender it had happily ignored for the previous 120 years.

Ironically, it was Lethlean who had overseen the launch of AFLW.

It surely won’t be long before the next themed round celebrating women fires up an AFL charm offensive in the same way that racial abuse of Eddie Betts, Lance Franklin or Adam Goodes is all forgotten once the Dreamtime at the G celebrations kick off.

Keen to complete the scandal hat-trick, the AFL wasted little time in announcing that James Hird would present this year’s Norm Smith Medal.

The 2000 winner of the Grand Final’s best-on-ground is next in line for the honour but given he was banned by the AFL for his role in the supplements saga it was hardly surprising when Twitterland swiftly compared the move to Lance Armstrong being invited to present Chris Froome’s yellow jersey.

Fortunately, while our national footy code may have given rise to one of Australia’s most efficient spin departments, it has also spawned another national institution.

As with most AFL matters, the saga was neatly summed up in a couple of Tweets from Titus O’Reily. 

“Huge story brewing at AFL House, even bigger than the Thomas the Tank announcement yesterday,” he began.

And concluded: “No more inappropriate relations at AFL House. Another great tradition of footy lost to history.”