A punch is a punch

I’ll be honest watching hours and hours of footy on a weekend are not exactly my ideal way of passing the time. But I do it because it means hanging out with my son and having something we can share together.

Our AFL team is Port Adelaide Football Club and as a mother of young boy who idolises their players I’m pretty pleased with the role modelling they give him. We see it especially in spades off the field whenever we go to their family events.

When ‘jumping punching’ became a thing in the headlines I started taking extra notice whether our players were participating in it. Now I can’t say with hand on my heart any of my son’s favourite players engage in this or not, but I’m not always looking out for it either.

Jumping punching is the act of grabbing a player by the Guernsey and pushing him around with a fist. And let’s be honest it’s punching the opposition player when you’re trying to be discreet.

A few months ago the AFL decided it was time to comment on this behaviour when a player was ‘jumper punched’ in the gut that saw him dry-wretching on the sidelines. It was not a good look that led to the League’s chief executive Gillon McLachlan saying;

“I don’t like punching in our game and I don’t think it’s the look we want.”

Apart from boxing where else do we tolerate the open punching of an opponent?

I’m no sport aficionado but when this discussion hit the headlines I genuinely struggled to think of any other sport where there was an argument to keep the punch in.

“First it was ban the bump. Now it’s penalise the punch. What’s next — suspend the sledge?”

ex-Adelaide Crows player Chris McDermott in The Advertiser

“We never had jumper punches in my day, it was more a straightforward punch so you didn’t have to worry about the jumper. The jumper was getting in the way of it,” joked Pyke.

Adelaide Crows coach Don Pyke in The Advertiser

And of course talkback radio was rife, but while many fans agree the jumper punch is poor role modelling for younger fans very little discussion was had about the fact we are talking about violence here.

As Greg Baum wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald;

..fundamentally, we’re looking at the issue the wrong way round. We’re concentrating on “jumper” instead of “punch” as if the jumper somehow mitigates the punch. But one player holds another’s jumper to disguise the punch, not lessen its impact. It is still a punch.

He goes on to say;

There is impact and there is impact. One is player on player, the other the game’s message to the watching world.

The AFL is in the midst of its greatest cultural transition with the introduction of the women’s league. With this cultural shift must come the conversation about masculinity and what we accept that to be in our society today.

When Don Pyke referred to Aussie Rules as a ‘man’s game’ he clearly missed the irony that the Adelaide Crows historically boast the first ever AFLW premiership team. Yet the fact this can go without notice demonstrates the long way the game has to go.

I don’t like my son watching men hit each other on the footy field. And for him to hear people in the media condone it creates a version of masculinity that is not him.

Each day players are talking more and more about their mental health. Their conversations are challenging masculinity in healthy and constructive ways. Knowing he is growing up hearing his idol Chad Wingard talk about mental health is the role modelling parents are crying out for.

It’s not in the unnecessary and coward act of hitting another player.