Ryan Daniels: AFL’s stance on domestic violence means nothing if Tarryn Thomas allowed to walk back in

Ryan Daniels
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Tarryn Thomas needs help off the field not on it.
Tarryn Thomas needs help off the field not on it. Credit: TheWest

Twenty-seven. The number of women allegedly killed this year by their current or former partners.

One every five days.

There are thousands more incidents where death is not the result, but where physical or mental abuse cause long-term, significant damage.

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We are at a crossroads. We somehow find ourselves in a time where women are more vulnerable than they were 30 or 40 years ago – violence from those closest is trending up.

As the father of a young girl, it terrifies and angers me. As the father of a young boy, I feel a sense of responsibility. I’m not alone.

In the past two weeks, Australia is showing we’ve had enough. The focus is on our politicians, our role models, our men to be better, to act. This is a difficult conversation, but its one that must be heard.

And our country’s biggest sporting code has a significant role to play in that conversation.

This weekend, AFL clubs will condemn violence against women, with players linking arms before every game. An idea instigated by West Coast CEO Don Pyke.

Good. Pyke gets it. Everything we can do, should be done.

If that one act pre-game creates even one percent further awareness, if it helps one woman find safety, if it makes one young man make better decisions, to seek help before things escalate, then it’s worth it.

It’s a small, visually powerful step — one that will hopefully start a dialogue in living rooms around the country.

But the AFL and its clubs will have a chance to make a giant leap later this year.

North Melbourne took one in February. After multiple attempts to rehabilitate and support one of their brightest young stars, they drew a line.

Tarryn Thomas of the Kangaroos looks on during the VFL Practice Match.
Tarryn Thomas of the Kangaroos looks on during the VFL Practice Match. Credit: Morgan Hancock/Getty Images

Former first round draft pick Tarryn Thomas was sacked by the Kangaroos. The AFL stepped in and handed Thomas an 18-game ban.

An AFL investigation found Thomas had “engaged in multiple acts of misconduct including threatening a woman via direct messages multiple times” and was thus guilty of several breaches of the AFL’s ‘conduct unbecoming’ rules.

Thomas had previously escaped criminal conviction, last July. He was initially charged with threatening to distribute an intimate image of another person — his former partner — but the charge was downgraded by prosecutors to using a carriage service to harass someone.

Come the end of this season, Thomas will have served his suspension, meaning he will be available for AFL clubs to recruit.

They simply cannot, in good conscience, do so.

You cannot have every player standing pre-game, linking arms, acknowledging the horrific acts against women — and then have a club give Tarryn Thomas yet another shot a few months later.

That’s empty virtue signalling.

A moment of silence for gender-based violence during the 2024 AFL Round 08 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Port Adelaide.
A moment of silence for gender-based violence during the 2024 AFL Round 08 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Port Adelaide. Credit: James Elsby/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

The AFL can’t fix violence against women, but it can do serious damage to the cause by continuously allowing offenders to have second, third, fourth chances.

At some point there must be accountability. This is that point.

Tarryn Thomas is a beautiful footballer. He moves with a swiftness, an ease — finishes with silky skills. If everything had come together, he had the talent to be one of the AFL’s best. His ability should have nothing to do with this decision.

Thomas’ first AFL coach at North, Brad Scott (now at Essendon), has been asked about Thomas a few times this season – would the Bombers recruit him, does he deserve another chance etc.

This was Scott’s response on Wednesday.

“As an industry, do we just wash our hands and say we’re done with him? Or do we help him? I’d prefer to sit in the help camp”.

Absolutely. Help is needed for Tarryn Thomas. But not in the form of an AFL contract and a spot on the half-forward-flank.

In a lot of ways, I understand Scott’s approach.

Clearly, he cares about Tarryn Thomas, the person. The one he met as a 14-year-old kid full of talent and hope. He’s probably had countless intimate moments with Thomas where he’s seen the best of this young man, the possibility.

He wants to believe this can still get to the best-case scenario. He also, no doubt, wants a very talented and highly skilled footballer running around in the red sash. Let’s not pretend this would even be a conversation if Thomas was the 44th best player on a list. He’d be made an example of.

In Scott’s defence, he was asked a question, and he answered it. He’s a good human, it’s widely known he’s a coach that invests completely in his players — one who develops real relationships.

He’s right that Thomas needs support. Rehabilitation and education are a significant part of fixing this problem. We shouldn’t just throw these people out, that would likely lead to further poor behaviour.

But there are other, more suitable ways to support Thomas. Instead of a list spot, Scott can offer Thomas a home, an ear, a safe space. He can attend counselling alongside him, he can spend the rest of his life helping Thomas walk the right path.

Jimmy Bartel was not a fan of Thomas being allowed back.
Jimmy Bartel was not a fan of Thomas being allowed back. Credit: SCOTT BARBOUR/AAPIMAGE

Former Geelong champion Jimmy Bartel, a domestic violence survivor himself, was asked about a potential AFL return for Thomas.

“Personally, I feel very uncomfortable with it,” Bartel told Footy Classified.

“At some stage the privilege has got to run out.”

“Throw your arms around him, support him, but you don’t have to do that at AFL level.”

He’s right.

If Thomas can learn, if he can show remorse for his actions and change for the better, he can be part of the solution. Maybe in a few years he can be a positive example of growth. He can find ways to give back to the community, to right his wrongs.

There’s still hope here. But the hope doesn’t need to be dressed in a footy jumper.

Thomas wouldn’t be the first to be given special treatment thanks to his football talent.

Time and time again offenders against women are given prominent, forward-facing positions in footy – whether that be as a player, or in the media. These positions put people on pedestals.

Tarryn Thomas has had enough chances.
Tarryn Thomas has had enough chances. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

The football industry must do better. It must walk the walk.

The AFL is a business, it’s a competition, but it’s also a billboard for young people. For the same reason every kid tries the Dusty fend off, or Charlie Cameron’s motorbike celebration, they watch the behaviour – on and off field, they emulate.

For the next generation, we can’t champion people who treat others with disrespect, disempowerment - or worst of all, violence.

Does a fit and firing Tarryn Thomas help you in games of football? Yes.

Does him playing in the AFL again send a message of ignorance, dismissiveness, and hypocrisy? Yes.

It’s time for the AFL and its clubs to take a real stand.

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