Although millions of words have been written over the past four years about Essendon and James Hird, very few have alluded to what is a very simple truth.
With the staggering television rights deals we now have in place, our beloved footy has become a huge business. Whilst we all understand why this has happened, it is easy to forget sometimes why businesses exist and how they operate.
The AFL as a corporation has grown massively in a relatively short period of time.
Through the salary cap and the draft, it has created a situation where teams are less likely (in theory) to dominate for long periods of time and have a more realistic chance of short-term success than ever before.
This in turn creates higher expectations from teams’ supporters.
In any competitive environment, everyone is looking for an edge.
So with teams becoming more evenly matched, it’s the one percenters that might put a team ahead of the rest.
Clubs are now working on a far more even playing field than ever before, therefor now more than ever clubs need to be creative.
Our game is built on courage, skills, endurance and strength. Whilst courage can’t be taught, the other three can all be improved with the knowledge and science we now have available.
Players are often selected on body types which can be manipulated and improved to fill a role. Like test pilots, coaches will “push the envelope” with the aim of getting a player’s performance to its maximum level without breaking.
Like test pilots, sometimes they push too far.
History shows us that great players don’t necessarily make great coaches. James Hird was a courageous, skilful footballer who was thrust into a role with no previous experience but huge expectation.
I don’t think for a moment he believed his players were being injected with anything illegal. But in his passionate desire to succeed he clearly placed too much faith in those he shouldn’t have.
Clearly Dank was a manipulator, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Hird has admitted he should have asked more questions. But his biggest problem throughout the whole saga was that he failed to realise he was operating within a business environment.
He damaged the AFL brand, so the AFL needed a head on a platter. He damaged the Essendon brand and whilst Essendon showed support, they ultimately also made a business decision that whilst he was there they couldn’t move forward. It wasn’t personal, it was just business.
All Australians are familiar with the Azaria Chamberlain dingo story. In an interview in 2014 Michael Chamberlain, who had also endured years of personal attacks and vitriol from the public and media, made the following statement: "We had lived by the credo that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. It was dead wrong.”
I’m sure that’s what Hird thought too.
But the simple truth is that we live in a world that is driven by success and dollars. Which creates pressure. Which can lead to mistakes. Especially for the inexperienced.
The football world is part of that. When there is failure, there will be blame. Which means casualties.
The world is full of James Hird’s -- People who find their lives have changed forever due to technology, an accident, an error of judgment, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But we don’t generally hear about them.
But when a person with a young family who was so revered and had so much of what we all call “success” finds himself in a situation where he is prepared to take his own life at 43, maybe that’s a bigger picture we should be focusing on.