Within general society Kerr’s taxi jumping and other misdemeanours are frowned upon, and should most certainly be punished. However, one must remember that outside the world of professional athletes, such antics would usually only result in the punishment handed down by the courts and not a $20,000 fine from an employer and the associated intense media scrutiny. This raises the following questions: has Kerr been harshly dealt with? Does the punishment fit the crime? And should sportspersons in general, and AFL players specifically, be judged any differently to the common citizen?

A lot of people like to make the argument that AFL players are fair game for public criticism due to the fact that many earn salaries far in excess of the average man on the street. Many others believe that athletes are role models, whether they accept it or not, and thus should behave in a fashion befitting such a title. Whilst these sentiments are admirable and completely understandable, there is another side of the argument.

Throughout their careers sports stars live under the microscope of public scrutiny, and usually not by choice. This scrutiny is the price they must pay for being at the pinnacle of their chosen sport. Eric Grothe Jr., Cayden Beethem, Shane Gould, and most recently Ian Thorpe are just a selection of the many athletes that have stepped away from the spotlight whilst still in the prime of their careers because they either did not like the lifestyle or the pressure that came with it.

In each case, these sporting people were called out by the public and the media for a perceived lack of commitment or failure to play on. No matter how good you are, or how well you behave, you will always be a potential lightning rod for criticism in the media at some point in time, be it for performance on the field, contract issues or, heaven forbid, an off-field incident. Any way you look at it, athletes cannot win in this regard.

So with all this said, where do the responsibilities of players and clubs lie? First of all, it is imperative that athletes maintain some sense of public decorum. In general they are dickhead magnets and will always be sought out, pointed at, criticised, and even abused by random frustrated fans and opposition supporters, and there is simply nothing they can do to prevent this – short of barricading themselves in their own home. This is unreasonable and certainly not the answer. I know from first-hand experience that a thick skin is required in many social situations and that players just need to walk away from a confrontation, no matter how difficult and how big a dent to their ego it may be. Some people, such as SEN1116’s radio guest Jason Richardson, suggest that as elite athletes players should not be out drinking during the season. Whilst not a huge sacrifice to make given the rewards an AFL player or other elite athlete can reap, this is still not required in my book. Players have, and should continue to have, the freedom to do as they please in terms of their nocturnal activities, but they do need to fully understand that if they wind up in the next morning’s newspapers it is their head in the noose when it comes to public scrutiny.

Clubs are also put in a difficult position when it comes to the actions of their star players. Whilst players are educated about the rights and wrongs of being an AFL player and are ultimately responsible for their actions, those actions also reflect heavily on the public perception of their club. Clubs can fine, even sack, players but their business is winning Premierships in the instance of the AFL, and it is here where the conflict of interest lies. If a player with five career games on his resume plays up in his third year at the club, he can easily be sacked. However if a player such as Daniel Kerr does the same thing it is a completely different matter. In the long run teams must be successful on field, and if that means carrying some bad eggs off-field, so be it. The behavioural standards set for each player will vary depending on their value to the team, and as unfair as that may seem, that is the reality.

When all is said and done, the media and fans will continue to put footballers and other athletes on a pedestal, and some will continue to disappoint by falling off. Sadly, people only ever seem to remember bad news, and as such it always gets the most column inches and sells the most papers. In truth there are many more footballers doing good things for the community and contributing to society than there are misbehaving, but such good-news stories only ever seem to get coverage on slow news days, and that too is a sad fact of life.

Article written by Luke Mather from oneweekatatime.com.au