Melbourne Football Club 2012 & "The Media" - Are we being served or played?

This piece comes with the pure imperfection of emotion. Perfectly fitting for the nature of what I'm about to write. Recently, with Melbourne Football Club's on field struggles, there's been a lot of commentary. Football media, fans and supporters, ex-players and coaches and others, have all weighed in:

  • Is senior coach Mark Neeld the right man for the job?
  • What about the implementation of his game plan?
  • His management of players and previous leaders?
  • The club's process to recruit Neeld?
  • I thought they'd fixed the football department?
  • If it can't be Neeld, surely CEO Cameron Schwab's gotta go?

Which Mark Neeld do you choose to see? Above or Below?

All these and more, have been thrown up as the hysteria grows - fuelled by people paid to sensationalise events – known nowadays as “the media”.

The noise is starting to deafen me.

On one hand I see commentary via media, throwing up all sorts of pseudo issues, biased analysis and fabricated concerns - allowing these commentators to profit from the attention they attract. It's another reminder of the seductive power of mass media communication. Do we enquire into the validity of the message or do we accept it because it's....... easier?

On the other hand I see a lynch mob, pent up with frustration created by their own expectations, looking for a catharsis - being played by forces other than their own intelligence. The thing is, lynch mobs are always unaccountable to reason. Where is our “Scout” from Mockingbird fame to defuse the moment?

Some even claim to be “challenging” the club for its own good, to help them “because something has to be done!”. I always find it amazing how the people who righteously announce these obvious problems are so unaware of how their comments and actions can distract clubs from their true focus of winning games. Funny how they never have to be accountable to working and following through the public hanging-based solutions they offer.

Yes I know, its not the first and won't be the last time.

So, without assuming I have the final word, or can account for everyone's opinion and way of assessing this situation, lets allow ourselves to be gently drawn into the argument. Lets see if we can create some space required for wisdom to come to the surface, gasp, and give a perspective on the current public dialogue:

  • Is Neeld the right man for the job? Who knows. The only thing truly known is that Melbourne haven't won a game yet. Yet. Would we be hearing and accepting of the current noise if Melbourne had scraped over the line in say, 2 games? It would still be a shitty record and it wouldn't really be any more meaningful a performance other than 8 points. But now, because of those eight missing points the whole world is ending and we allow people names to be muddied. And we know what mud does, don't we. Is he the right man for the job? It's irrelevant at this point in time anyway. Sooner or later any organisation realises it can't keep sacking people for the next magic pill. Melbourne did that last year. They aren't going to get rid of him, it's such early days, and besides it costs big money to pay out the scapegoat while you're enticing the next saviour.
  • Which brings us to the CEO Cameron Schwab. Over the last year, through all the club's publicised challenges as well as the deserved appreciation of what Jim Stynes did for for Melbourne Football Club's revival, the interesting omission was any public recognition for Cameron and his staff, from inside or outside the club. I know Jim had a big heart, fierce determination and a knack for connecting people, but was he that powerful? Surely he didn't do it all by himself did he? Off field the club is healthier than its ever been with a legitimate foundation to be successful and sustainable. What key people might have contributed to this state? This is where the lynch mob comes back in. “Well we can't get Neeld, he's only just started and its a young team, plus he's got 2½ more years, so who else is there?”

Scheming villain or architectural saviour? Which one?

  • They didn't use a psychological profiling process when assessing Neeld! Again, creating things out of context, to generate self serving stories. Are we to accept that profiling is the only version of best recruiting practice? Where is the research showing the 100% satisfaction of organisations regarding the use of profiling in their staff recruitment process?
  • Neeld's game plan, the teams performance, and player leadership groups? Again all this is based on the win loss ratio, and while I understand that's what AFL is all about, a poor win-loss doesn't always reflect poor preparation and organisation. In simple terms, while people feel the team should be playing better, it does actually take time. Sometimes young kids just aren't good enough. Not even good enough to be consistent in their effort – another bemoaning from the outer. Where did the automatic expectations of a linear progression to 2012 finals contention come from? Especially in light of the club's continual declaration of where they see themselves right now, and the re-establishment of their foundation including Mark Neeld, Neil Craig, Dave Misson and Jade Rawlings etc. Regarding the player list and performance? They are young and it takes time to do it right. Scan through Loris Bertolacci's no frills writings about the key factors in finals success for AFL clubs, especially the player age/experience demographic of premiership teams.

What does it take for a club to be as mighty as this emblem?

So am I defending Melbourne Football Club? No. They live in a competitive world where it's all about the result, and wins talk more than money. But am I accepting the premise of the questions being asked of them? No way. Before having Melbourne explain themselves, demanding heads to roll, or even coercing them into justification and defense, I firstly challenge the accusers to reveal the basis for the thoughts they choose to attach to and communicate to the wider world.

  • What is the basis for their comments & actions?
  • Where are ethics in public disclosure these days?
  • Who does hold mass media to account?

Of course the answer to the accountability question is everyone. You and me. All of us. Earlier I mentioned “To Kill a Mockingbird” but how about “The Crucible” or more recently the brilliant movie “Good Night and Good Luck” based on the same 1950's events. The more things change the more things stay the same.

In this case, the media based commentary of accusations, and the unwitting cult of followers created thereafter, are rightly demanding accountability. But are they prepared to vigorously demand the same of themselves?

Scott Barrow