It’s good to be the King

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This blog post was inspired by two disparate, far apart and different personalities. They’ve inspired a random collection of thoughts to become focused. Neither personality is without their flaws, but they are both separately inspirational in the construction of this post. One is Jalen Rose, one of my absolute favourite broadcasters – in the midst of another wise fluffy jokey segment on the “Jalen and Jacoby” podcast, Rose said “who we are and what we do are not the same thing”. It’s the crux of sports journalism – it’s the crux of my job in PR. We mask flaws, we show you deeds, not humanity. We hope you don’t pause long enough to reflect on who is talking, or who they are as people, but how far they can hit a cricket ball, kick for goal, slam dunk a basketball. Human beings? Complex, troubled, flawed…the icon on the billboard or showing you Crownbet Rewards on the new app? That person or image we show you is what they do, the sport that they play, the thing they are good at…it’s been troubling, niggling me since Rose said it – who we are, what we do…

The other is Jerry “The King” Lawler who my Dad idolised in his Memphis Wrestling days. His quote is simpler, and requires far less thought. Simply, he used to strut onto Memphis TV, squint down the camera, smile, and say “It’s Good to be the King”.

We need to talk about Wayne Carey…

  • The King

It’s only just occurred to me in this past week that Wayne Carey is even on television. Now that sentence is of course redundant, I mean I KNOW he’s on television. But that’s noticing the footballer, the purveyor of deeds, the taker of pack marks, the Premiership player. The King, the swaggering presence, the Roo Boy, the blokey bloke who can stroll into footy clubs with stories about Denis Pagan, stirring up Ryan Fitzgerald on debut (that story kills), or what it was like to run on the field for the Crows on THAT night. The King, it’s good to be him, he can sit in the blokey bloke confines of the Triple M studios being the blokiest of blokes – why, he even intimidated Garry Lyon! Did you see him Spud! Garry made him a coffee!

Except that’s a reward for what he did, not who he is, and I’m as passive and guilty as anyone in letting it go, passive and guilty about letting my anger, engagement and dispassion that he’s on TV go. Didn’t think about it, only just let it come back into my mind. And all it took was one website sentence.

“Past greats including Wayne Carey said the sledging code was simple: if it’s personal, it’s wrong.”

I only just realised that person is on TV, not the footballer…

It’s problematic and troubling the way we let things drift, as viewers, as engagers. Brad Scott the coach gets to call out cheap shots, when he threw Lenny Hayes into the fence as a player. We don’t REALLY think about Eddie McGuire or the Caroline Wilson affair anymore, or the King Kong/Goodes affair, or that Allan Jeans or Leigh Matthews were never questioned on the violence of their teams, or Mick Malthouse vs Milne or an abundance of sins lost to time (pick your own moment of scandal and passing).

We don’t really. Because there is a catch all point, undefined, where the world of media and blokes decide “let’s just get on with the footy!” – it’s a fact that eventually, someone will rub their hands together and decide, for you as a viewer, that we should move on. “Let’s get on with the game” – and you get caught up, put your tips in, get your membership and…hang on, WAYNE CAREY is on TV in a position of moral authority?

I’ve already covered my feelings on the past St Kilda/Carlton issue, but Carey’s contribution being received as gospel was particularly troubling. Depressing. And not just as a woman. It was dis-spiriting as a football fan. It was dis-spiriting how no one asked a question. As a student of media and PR, again, all that was left to ask was just why so much goes unquestioned.

Wayne Carey told you where the line was.

And no one murmured at all…

  • The Affair

To understand Melbourne, the boys club, the blokey blokes deciding agendas over a few froffies before giving the little woman at home a couple of bucks to “doll up”, it’s worth spending a few depressing moments re-reading the Internet archives of “the affair” – in truth, it’s depressing, but enlightening. You see, the footy code was in full effect, with aghast Males pondering aloud the decimation of the unwritten wallet/wife code…his best mates missus! Maybe his sister, but not his missus! The prevaling orthodoxy of this standard was expressed with deep profundity by Wayne’s father in law, Terry McMahon.

“If you wanted [it] that bad you would go to a knock shop, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t take your best mate’s wife.”

Quite. And while knock shops around Melbourne were deprived of Wayne’s valuable time, it’s worth remembering that behind the scenes, even as (gasp!) the footy codes (mumble mumble something about a wife being like a wallet) sacred trust was broken, behind the scenes Wayne’s redemption was being planned. Wayne himself, reading from prepared statements written by Ricky Nixon, shifted the blame onto Kelli Stevens by suggesting if that damn infatuated harlot hadn’t followed him into the toilet IN FRONT OF PEOPLE all would be well. Sam Newman went on radio to ponder quite why Carey had slept with a footballers wife, saying he, as a Melbourne based footballer, could have slept with someone much more special (ie at least a 9). Eddie McGuire rubbed his hands together in glee about how amazing the Footy Show ratings would be, and Mark Robinson got the exclusive interview in a media exchange of plugs and deals that helped everyone out. Newman opened up the Footy Show that aired immediately post affair with a joke about “Toilet Duck” (“get it! His nickname is Duck! They were in a Toilet!”) and blamed Kelli Stevens for the whole thing.

I’m not breaking secrets in telling you Melbourne media and the AFL have “their own” – to this day, there is in an “in” circle. Carey was in that circle. A fall from grace? Temporary. Always someone to prop him up, always someone to show support – after all, Carey had grabbed a woman on the breast in 1996, read a prepared “if I’ve offended anyone” apology and got no backlash from the North Melbourne board. Not when there were pack marks to take, goals to kick, Premierships to win…if you wonder why Wayne Carey is on TV now, go back, read and learn, understand there are people always willing to forgive and forget, because he was “The King”, the best footballer they’d seen…and this part of the tale is to show you how it’s decided “when we move on”. It’s PR, it’s spin.

What he did, not who he is…

  • The trouble

“It was a tongue-in-cheek comment and I didn’t realise the ramifications of it,” Carey said.

In 2007, fully redeemed by those who matter in the media, for the first time, Carey, embedded at Channel 9, had a go at Nathan Thompson. Thompson, who suffered from depression, was slated by Carey about going to the races and drinking when he had depression, as if they were mutually exclusive events. There then followed a point where the Channel 9 Sunday Footy Show came back from break with Carey saying, sotto voce, off air, “he will end up necking himself” – Billy Brownless giggled awkwardly, Tony Jones shifted uncomfortably, and the PR spin began, led by Jones, Channel 9 and the above awkward “I don’t know what depression is” based apology that Wayne got off of a prepared Microsoft word document. Working in PR, we still talk about preparing Wayne Carey apologies, almost by template. “If I’ve offended anyone”, “I regret my actions”, “If I did that” – all the hits. The Nathan Thompson apology was stock and template…

This isn’t on Youtube this episode of the Sunday Footy Show, it’s almost forgotten that this happened. It wasn’t mentioned in the Enough Rope interview at all by Andrew Denton. It exists in the maelstrom of internet outrage. A story that passed and then fell away. He wasn’t sacked. The template apology worked. It always worked…because if it didn’t work, it might not work for someone else in the inner circle. Worked for Newman. Worked for McGuire. Worked for Brownless. Forgive, forget…

In the off season, Carey broke a wineglass in the face of his then fiancee, headbutted a policeman and was finally sacked by Channel 9. Like he was sacked by North Melbourne. But the only issue was time. Domestic violence, if you want to admit it, is a PR opportunity for sporting codes. Ribbons, badges, slogans. Things that are easy to deal with, like a verbal sledge? Done. Nick Stevens? Justin Murphy? Wayne Carey? Daniel Kerr? They have support, protection, footy mates that will get them speaking gigs once the dust settles. Always got a glory days payday, a country footy club to entertain. No one REALLY falls out of favour when they can kick a ball. You’d be naive to think once the name falls from the headline, that there isn’t someone, somewhere with a job, a pat on the back, a few pots to share. The main thing is talking footy. Character? Forget it. Belt someone on the field? All part of the game! A few misdemeanours? Ah, we’ll forgive you, you seem a good bloke, get the beers in! And you might get to this point in this blog post and ponder to yourself “but the guy is REDEEMED! You are listing all these old acts! GET OVER IT! Toot toot!” (or something similar).

But here’s the problem – eventually, your past does define you. You can be the firmest of “don’t have to live in sackcloth and ashes forever!” redemption believers, to not find the duality of Careys highest of high profile roles questionable and dis-spiriting. After all, football isn’t just “football” any more. Narrative rules. Opinion rules. Eventually Carey is going to have to opine on something. Something that matters. Talk about womens football. Sledging. God forbid, a scandal involving an affair or a domestic violence issue. Stand shifting from side to side on camera as Brian Taylor explains it is White Ribbon night. And then, forgive me, I will feel ridiculously uncomfortable, no matter how many prelim finals from the 90s you show me…

  • The redemption

There’s a very enlightening moment right at the start of Wayne Careys appearance on “Eddie McGuire Tonight” where Eddie waves a hand to the camera and says “We’re not here to rake over the coals and talk about the past!” – McGuire then moves the discussion along to how well Carey is doing to “make amends” for his past, and after 2/3 minutes is onto a discussion about how Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes will fair in the finals. Carey the footballer, the man of deeds. What he did, dear viewer, he’ll let you in on what it was like to BE there – let’s get on with the footy! This man won Premierships!

There was also a natural fit in the blokey world of Triple M – the swaggering world of alpha males, sledging, bullying. After all, Carey “tells it like it is!”. Carey gave tacit approval to Damien Barretts sledge of Mark Robinson with a purring “I’ve never been more proud” – Triple M men don’t judge, they encircle, embrace, firmly keep you inside the tent. They redeem…and Carey, by dint of doing little more than signing the right contract, is redeemed. Because it’s been announced he’s been redeemed. And that’s that. There’s no debate. He’s redeemed. Because…he is. Because he’s had an indeterminate period where he didn’t glass his wife or he stayed to knock shops or because there was a timely Premership re-union. Either way, he’s redeemed. Here’s a funny story from a state game between quarters to tide you over lest you ponder that…Triple M rocks football!

The bewildering part of this is – McGuires number one blokey bloke rule is loyalty, Triple Ms “code” would surely include not sleeping with your missus, or your mates missus, or taking her wallet or…something. Maybe involving a knock shop or staying away from a 3 out of 10. Carey seems to fall outside of all of those rules? And Triple M seem to take great delight picking apart people for far less? Including Tom Rockliff for unspecified reasons? Again, do they need each other that much? A support network? Mutual back scratching? Knowing where the bodies are buried? I’ve pondered this for ages…

  • The silencer

ANDREW DENTON: We talked about a long history tonight of misjudgements and incidents and you’ve as a result of all of these things you’ve lost all your work with 3AW and Channel Nine, you’re basically unemployed. You say you talk about the place where you want to be. How do you see the next 10, 15 years of your life panning out? Where do you hope to go?

WAYNE CAREY: Oh Andrew if I could answer that that’d be fantastic. I don’t know where I’ll be in a month so.

But we always knew…

There was never any doubt Carey would swagger back. It fades, and over pots, late in the night, a man (it’s always a man) will tell you why. Did his time, no sense of humour you women, he’s been redeemed Becca, he’s the King, the Duck, he’s a better commentator than that damned Richo! He tells it like it IS! Give the guy a break. He made a mess of his life, but he’s completely turned it around! Here, watch this mark against Port Adelaide!

You realise that second, third chances don’t get meted out by fan decisions, by protests or merit. They get meted out by deed, and the deeds are frozen in aspic – idolising footballers is the heart of the marketing, the spin. Don’t think of the deed, the flaws. Don’t think of the squirming discomfort when he speaks. Don’t think why is this fundamentally flawed human being allowed to give his opinion on a moral issue? Instead, think of the marks, the goals. Don’t discuss. Never discuss. Never question.

But it’s worth discussing when Carey fronts the coverage of “White Ribbon” night on live TV, without irony, comment or question.

And it’s worth discussing when Wayne Carey gets to tell you, you the reader, you the viewer, where the line is. Gets to say without question “if it’s personal, it’s wrong”. Football redemption. A conversation they can stop, in the world of blokes. Prop up who they want, redeem who they want. And I didn’t notice, as a viewer. Just let it go by, nodded without really listening, bought pots at the Cricketers Arms as people explained why he was on TV, as people in PR booked him for events, like nothing had ever happened. He’s not there for searing insight, given the Sam Mitchell comment, the Cyril Rioli error, the sledge of Adam Simpson…you can tweet, you can complain, you can react…but it doesn’t matter…someone has decided he is redeemed, and that is that. He’s on TV for what he did, the goals he kicked, don’t question, don’t think…

But it’s conversation always worth having. ALWAYS – how he has a job. Why he has a job. Why as viewers we don’t question these things. Not enough. Why the discussion should always continue. Why it shouldn’t be silenced by “he’s a changed man!” or “pack mark against Port Adelaide!”

Or “what would you know”, with all that entails…

Because if you think about him on TV, it falls apart.

What he did, not who he is…

It’s good to be The King…

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2 thoughts on “It’s good to be the King”

  1. Hi Becca, great writing. I’d like to stick up for the attention span of the footy audience – we do actually have pretty long memories and the modern footy fan has a good ear for what’s unacceptable, I reckon. And more avenues than ever to express our displeasure. But – we do all have blind spots about figures from our own club. I can list all the errors of Dustin Martin but I don’t let them stop me enjoying his footy. While Jake Carlisle or Milney ran around the field dragging their offences behind them, to my eyes. Carey is beyond the pale. Ch 7’s calculation that its OK now to hire him, but were incredibly tone deaf and offensive letting him anywhere near the White Ribbon business. Should have put in the cupboard for a week.

    Your point of view is refreshing, well-informed and so well expressed, keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks mate, I appreciate it. I was angry at myself for not putting any thought into Carey being on TV – I was kind of passive about it, and then kind of re-tuned back in, like “Oh, Carey! Wait a minute!” – so I was questioning my own attention span as much as anyone. The forgiveness that comes from the McGuire et al inner circle is just “they’ve decided he’s OK now” and that’s hard as well.

      The White Ribbon thing ALWAYS deserves condemnation – however late. And yeah, we do ignore a lot of things, like, different sport but my New Orleans Saints gave me the best of my life, and now people get to “Oh what about Bounty Gate!” it – I think questioning is always good, and Carey is just, regardless of your team, something always to query.

      Cheers for the comment

      Liked by 1 person

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