On behalf of the AFL, we congratulate you on your selection in the 2012 national draft. Before you embark on an exciting and lucrative career, we would like you to be aware of some of the social responsibilities that come with being an AFL footballer.
There has never been a better time to play in the AFL, despite the scrutiny that some players receive. The player of today plays in magnificent stadiums, is paid more than a cabinet minister or plumber, and will get to the front of any nightclub queue and spring carnival marquee. But these privileges also bring responsibilities, which we as a competition take very seriously.
Your starting salary will be a base of about $70,000, plus match payments, which will put you well ahead of any uni student or apprentice. Even moderate players can make $300,000, about $600,000 if they are willing to live and work in greater western Sydney and a million dollars if they are well-known rugby league stars without basic skills.
In return for that wage, you will have to forfeit some basic freedoms and liberties that are enjoyed by most people your age. We remind you that you are a role model and thus subject to higher standards. You should be careful about how you behave in public. You will find it harder to take drugs or drink regularly — we test for drugs and will not let you play if you keep taking them, and your skinfolds will suffer if you drink beer.
As mentioned, footballers are VIPs, you will get free entry to nightclubs and drink cards, but once you’re inside you are every chance to be filmed on an iPhone when staggering around, fighting, trying to pick up girls and acting stupid. Even if you are just having a quiet one and some hoon takes a swing at you, rest assured it will be your picture in the paper, and questions will be asked as to why you were out so late.
Conversely, the upside is, even if you did belt him, your club will call it an unprovoked attack.
Speaking of mobile phones, you may be surprised to learn that tweets aren’t private text messages. You will be fined if you bag the umpires on Twitter. You will be fined as much as $5000 for making tasteless comments, just as you will be fined or suspended if you say something similar on the field, or to a spectator who is abusing you. Do not make gestures to ugly members of opposition cheer squads.
If you do anything criminal, such as being caught in a drug deal, assaulting a cab driver or bashing someone, you can count on your club to help out with hiring lawyers and, if possible, trying to get you off the charge on a technicality. But at the same time, you will have to front your club’s leadership group, which may decide to suspend you, regardless of what happens in court.
If your teammates go soft, then we may step in and suspend you anyway. We would not be pre-judging your guilt or innocence, of course. We have had a player involved in an incident where a person was attacked with a machete, and we didn’t have any idea what to do, so we said we would let the courts deal with it. We are just trying to maintain standards.
If you are suspended, it is likely that you will have to stand in front of the cameras and make a statement. You will apologise for your actions and read a prepared statement, saying: “I have let myself down, my teammates and club down, and my family.” Remember to look down and sound as though you mean it.
We ask you to actually read our respect and responsibility policy for women and listen when you are briefed on it.
The media is a key partner for us. In effect, it provides most of the money via broadcast rights and exposing sponsorship, so you should always be polite to them, no matter how annoying they are. Your club will train you to speak in cliches and never to say anything interesting about yourself (apart from a family tragedy), not to divulge slightly revealing game plans and, above all, never to say anything that the opposition coach could use to motivate the players. If you kick 10 goals, the club will be pleased when you say “the boys had a great win, everyone really put in”, because you aren’t getting ahead of yourself.
When you are coming out of contract, journalists will try to trap you into saying either that you want to “stay for life and be a one-club player”, an easy headline on a slow news day, or that you will wait until the end of the season — generally, the latter is code for “I’m leaving”. The best way to answer, given that we now have free agency, is to say, “I’ve left it all in the hands of my manager, and I hope it gets sorted out.” This could mean anything and keeps your options open.
You will have to learn to speak like an AFL player and to use the correct jargon for what happens on the field, making it sound much more scientific than it is. You will be the “hit up” (leading) player, try to “spot up” (kick it short) and become your team’s “plus one” (loose man) while sticking to the all-important “structures” (team rules).
As an AFL footballer, people will be interested in your social views. You might not have strong opinions on climate change, refugees or gay marriage, but many of your peers will venture opinions, via social media, on important matters such as the pre-season play-offs, Lebron James, the NFL and the English Premier League.
The average AFL careers lasts three or four years. Some of you will go on to become household names with high profiles and T-shirt businesses, then subsequently coaches and commentators. If you are offered a media gig — a newspaper column especially — you’re going to have to start thinking for yourself. In any case, we encourage you to take it, while it lasts.
All the best,
Mike and Andrew.
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