The devastation wrought by Andrew Gaff’s moment of madness has played out and now everyone in the AFL will be looking to pick up the pieces and try to get some good out of a situation in which everyone lost.
Andrew Brayshaw will spend the next month eating through a straw while his wired-up jaw heals.
Only when that time is up will he know whether four of his teeth can be salvaged. Let’s hope the mental scars aren’t too deep.
No-one can doubt the sincere remorse and anguish of Andrew Gaff.
The image of him sitting with his head in his hands on the bench was a compelling image of a man in torment.
But as AFL chief counsel Jeff Gleeson said on Tuesday, sometimes “good people do bad things”. And the fact is, it was Gaff’s attempt to punch Brayshaw in the chest that went horribly wrong.
He’s been given an eight-game ban, the longest since Dean Solomon was given a similar ban 10 years ago.
A lack of clarity of the rules
Herein lies the problem which the AFL must surely now fix. The mere fact that Andrew Gaff could use a punch as a legitimate means to gain a tactical advantage over a close-checking opponent has led to this situation.
And it is an area of the game that is judged arbitrarily, based not on the act of the punch, but on the outcome of the punch.
Yesterday Andrew Gaff got eight games for a punch and the sickening damage it caused.
In July, the Swans’ Zak Jones struck Essendon’s Zac Merrett in the throat. The punch could so easily have hit Merrett in the jaw. Or caused serious damage to Merrett’s windpipe.
Jones was given a $1,500 fine.
In the same month, Hawthorn’s Daniel Howe was suspended for two games for striking Carlton’s Patrick Cripps in the face. Again, Cripps could have been nursing a broken jaw.
Three punches, three different outcomes.
The fact is: a punch is a punch is a punch.
On Tuesday, Andrew Brayshaw’s brother, Melbourne player Angus, gave a heartfelt interview on the AFL Exchange podcast about how sickened he was by the incident.
“If this has happened at a nightclub or on the streets, it’s an assault,” Brayshaw said.
“I’m not a lawyer … but you could probably get in jail for something like this, I would imagine. The one-punch thing has been a huge campaign.”
Last year the AFL outlawed the “jumper punch” — whereby players could legally punch an opponent provided they were holding his jumper at the time.
It was an absurd loophole and since its closure, jumper punches have disappeared from the game.
Learning from other codes
The National Rugby League effectively outlawed punching in 2013 after a particularly vicious State of Origin match.
From that point on, any player throwing a punch faces a spell in the sin bin for 10 minutes or can be ejected from the game altogether.
There’s been just one suspension in the NRL for punching this year — Melbourne’s Curtis Scott was given a two-match ban for punching Manly’s Dylan Walker.
Argument raged about the leniency of the sentence given Walker’s eye socket was fractured.
But the NRL believes that overall the crackdown has been very successful in reducing punching.
Now some of the senior voices in the AFL are calling for a similar zero tolerance on punching in their game.
Football commentator and former Melbourne player Garry Lyon told Fox Sports the players should take it upon themselves to outlaw punching. He’s calling on senior players, like Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield, to speak up.
“Listen, we want to lead in this situation. We want to take the ambiguity out of the punch and say we want a week suspension for any punch,” he said.
Melbourne’s Jordan Lewis echoed the call: “If that was a suspension straight away, hey, no-one would be doing it, I can guarantee you that.”
Greater Western Sydney co-captain Phil Davis went straight to the heart of the matter.
“If you want to stop an action you have got to penalise an action … and then all of a sudden you don’t have to worry about the outcome because players have stopped doing those actions,” he told Fox Sports News.
Australian Rules Football is one of the most difficult sports in the world because of its 360 theatre of play. AFL footballers are elite athletes, fast and exceptionally strong. Merely stepping on to the field attests to a players’ courage because the chance of a serious impact injury is ever present.
Banning the punch — any punch — would go a long way to making the game safer and removing the element of chance that now sees an 18-year-old with serious life-changing injuries.