MITCHELL JOHNSON: Jimmy Bartel is right in saying AFL can’t let Tarryn Thomas play AFL again

Mitchell Johnson
The West Australian
Tarryn Thomas has run out of chances
Tarryn Thomas has run out of chances Credit: Getty Images

Geelong great Jimmy Bartel hasn’t played a game since 2016 but he made another huge contribution with his forthright comments on violence against women.

It’s very well for the clubs to unite against gender-based violence this weekend, coming together in a circle before the start of every match.

But if it’s not backed by a commitment to take a harder line on players who transgress, then what does it really achieve?

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The AFL industry and its 18 clubs appear to pride themselves on giving “second chances” but once we get to the third, fourth and fifth chance surely they need to say enough is enough.

Bartel grew up in a household affected by domestic violence and grew a long beard during his final season to draw attention to the cause.

So I took notice when he said that former North Melbourne player Tarryn Thomas had run out of chances and should not be allowed to restart his career with another club next season.

Thomas was suspended for 18 matches by the AFL and sacked by the Kangaroos after being found by the AFL Integrity Unit to have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct including threatening a woman via direct messages multiple times.

It came after the former first-round draft pick had already been banished from the club and placed in rehabilitation programs after earlier issues.

Bartel said at some stage the privilege has got to run out.

“I feel very uncomfortable with it. I get the whole premise of forgiveness and chances, he’s had a number of chances with his alleged behaviour,” he said on Footy Classified.

“But at some stage there’s got to be a fork in the road, because the forgiveness angle hasn’t worked.”

Bartel got it spot on. And what made his stance brave was that he went against the grain.

Soon enough there were senior coaches calling for Thomas to be allowed another chance. Brad Scott called him a “good person” who had made some “terrible mistakes”, while Ross Lyon said the league was already losing Indigenous players and noted “life sentences don’t even get imposed at a custodial level”.

Zero tolerance has to be the way forward when it comes to any professional sportsperson in these scenarios. And it’s up to the AFL and the likes to be on the front foot with it.

The silent tribute to women who have lost their lives to gender-based violence is a good idea. But the AFL and its clubs let themselves down when players whose behaviour has been deemed sackable by one club then find themselves recycled to restart their career at another.

We repeatedly see players who run out of chances at their original clubs for all sorts of bad behaviour, only to be kicked out and picked up by another club.

And the second club tends to get them either for nothing or in a cheap trade because of the off-field risk associated with the player.

Why does it happen? Is it because clubs only see the on-field skill of the player and that’s all they care about?

All sporting codes need to be better when it comes to setting standards. Recruiting any player has to be about the full package.

All athletes must be aware it is a privilege to play professional sport. We are no bigger or better than the person we stand in line next to at the coffee shop.

Violence against women is unsettling and uncomfortable to speak about but I believe it is very important we do talk about it. Most important of all is that men talk about it openly.

While the AFL tends to preach about plenty of social and political issues that shouldn’t be forced down our throats, what they are doing to call out domestic and gender-based violence at the weekend is a positive and something that is sadly completely necessary.

If they can continue to support the cause by backing it up, not just with some words here and there, but actually with action when it comes to cases that are put in front of them, then that will hopefully encourage other sports to do the same.

In my view, they should already be doing it.

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