This week the AFL should be celebrating the establishment of the new women’s national league.
It should be receiving applause for its commitment to promoting better attitudes towards women with Our Watch.
Instead it’s in damage control.
Two words: Eddie McGuire.
The man, who famously suggested Adam Goodes should be used to promote an upcoming production of King Kong, has done it again.
This time it’s senior Fairfax journalist, Caroline Wilson, who’s fallen foul of his witty banter.
In a particularly toxic segment, on Mcguire’s Triple M breakfast radio programme last Monday, the Collingwood President joked about drowning the reporter in ice cold water. Among those guffawing in the background were North Melbourne Chairman, James Brayshaw, and former St Kilda captain Danny Frawley. Frawley even said he’d jump in and hold her down.
Not surprisingly the comments provoked a strong reaction from social media.
Following a week of criticism, the AFL finally reacted to the controversy, releasing a rather meekly worded statement.
But McGuire has not apologised to Wilson.
Instead he’s offered a qualified comment. The segment was clearly banter but:
"Anything that's seen to promulgate or to support, even in a light-hearted manner, any form of domestic violence is unacceptable.”
Danny Frawley has issued an apology both privately and publically – rather tellingly after a conversation with his family.
“I had a good discussion with my three daughters and (wife) Anita when I got home and rang my mother, so a lot of people got offended — and none more than Caroline Wilson. So my apologies have gone out to her. I’ve tried to contact her."
Frawley’s mea culpa demonstrates why this type of sexist commentary is, if nothing else, so bloody stupid.
It has an impact on the people he loves the most.
When you joke about drowning a single woman because you don’t like what she says, you limit opportunities for all women.
When you compare a female sports writer to a black widow and say you’d pay to have her held under water, the door is open for others to make similar comments towards your wife, your mother, your daughter.
Nobody wins from this.
It’s not good for women in sport.
And it’s not good for the AFL.
One of the reasons the code signs up for the Our Watch programme, one of the reasons it plays the White Ribbon game and the reason it has introduced a women’s competition is to grow the game.
You don’t do this by attacking and alienating half of your potential fanbase.
Which is why the AFL’s rather weak reaction is disappointing.
There will be no real consequences for McGuire and he clearly doesn’t think he’s in the wrong.
Caroline Wilson says he keeps getting away with it because people are too scared to confront him.
“His board didn’t stand up to him over the Adam Goodes business, the AFL didn’t stand up to him over equalisation. It just keeps happening because he has such power and because I occasionally take him to task and challenge him, he doesn’t like it.”
But if the AFL really wants to expand, it might be time to try.