There are always lessons to be learnt

The story (ran by the NT News on 31st May 2017) of Liam Patrick playing football in Alice Springs on a weekend late in May, raises many questions, uncovers a multitude of concerns, unearths a throng of issues and establishes a mass of shortfalls.

The first thing that came to mind when I read this article was an Eckhart Tolle quote,

“Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.”

In this case it wasn’t that I considered the statement solely on the individual outlined in the article, more so on the many people and parties involved in the entirety of the situation.

Not to discount the victim, who is obviously the number one concern, as is the family members that are intertwined into the event. It is about looking outside that immediate area of concern, and considering the actions of the many other personal involvements in this quandary.

Eckhart Tolle’s quote, may be part of a profound, yet simple teaching.  However the reality is that there are “deep lessons” to be learned, and not just for those within close proximity, it also needs to be considered by those on the periphery. This articles aim is to look at each parties involvement and determine, what are the learnings that should be considered.

Who is Liam Patrick?

Liam Patrick works for the AFLNT as Regional Development Manager in his home community of Lajamanu, he is also an ex AFL listed player, having spent time on the Gold Coast Suns list from their inception, and is also a contracted player with the Northern Territory Thunder Football club. Liam is generally regarded as a good person within his community and whatever it was that sparked the quarrel with his partner all those months ago, it would be safe to say that Liam is feeling pretty bad about what happened.

Looking at Liam Patrick’s side of ‘this story’ [playing football for Federals], it isn’t complicated at all, he was more than likely just offered a game of football with Federals and felt good about being asked, because football makes him feel good about himself.

Now to look outside of Liam Patrick and the other parties involved in the story of him playing a game football for the Federals Football Club in Alice Springs.

What about the ‘NT News article’ itself?

The headline “Accused woman basher takes to footy field despite ban“. The headline frames the rest of the experience for the reader, it changes the way people read the article and the way we remember it. It’s generally recognised the findings of psychologists that first impressions really do matter, that what we see, hear, feel, or experience in our first encounter with something, influences how we process the rest of the story. In this case the headline creates an electrifying awareness, one that aims to depict Liam Patrick as a mean a callous individual, who played a game a footy while being banned from the game.

It is important to note that only the Northern Territory Football Club (NTFC), had stood Liam Patrick down, and that was from his playing contract, as a result of domestic violence charges against him, and there was no overarching ban ‘from football’ placed on him by the governing body.

Which brings us to ‘Sporting Bodies Regulating Criminal Offences’

It has been raised before that there is a need for sporting bodies to implement rules to stop a person from participating in sporting competitions due to criminal matters. Currently any restrictions are limited to those applied by the courts, for example bail condition requirements, as was the case with Liam Jurrah, or heavier court sentencing outcomes that restrict the player from participating.

For a sporting body such as AFLNT to bring in a By-Law, which stops individuals from participating in a local football program, due to pending charges would be very difficult to manage successfully. Yet also has the potential to lead to whole new world of pain, particularly if only select people are managed under the ruling. And then of course you’ll have the pundits that dispute the decision, asking why sporting bodies have the right to take action against a person for behaviour, which occurred outside of the sport they’re participating in.

However the industry does show that there are ways to manage it. Professional athletes who are contracted have commitments that they sign on the dotted line for, Karmichael Hunt comes to mind as one example, a professional athlete who is required to meet standards of personal behaviour as a high profile individual. Although it is important to note that players such as Karmichael Hunt are evaluated in a far more strenuous manner, under greater awareness, with a higher chance of prejudice, as a result of preconceived opinions or feelings.

Sporting bodies could manage these situations through a ‘Code of Conduct’ approach similar to that undertaken in the US College Sports Programs, where they include penalties for those students who breach societal law. In these situations a college athlete accused of a crime may be suspended from all sports-related activities, even while the matter is pending. While a conviction of a serious crime, has the potential to lead to expulsion or revocation of financial aid.

In these two examples, all parties go into the initial agreement with an understanding of what is at stake if there is a breach of the law and/or what is expected of the individual in terms of off field behaviour. For the AFLNT to have this widely accepted they would need to operate a campaign which ensured that change of the status quo could be achieved.

The role of ‘Non Government Organisations (NGO’s)’

Charlie King is the founder of the NO MORE Campaign, which works hard to reduce family violence through the “key theme of placing the responsibility of reducing family violence on men, the most common perpetrators”. The approach Charlie is taking is a lengthy one, however it does target the issue directly at the grass roots level by having clubs formalise their intentions to support the program by writing their own family violence action plans.

These plans outline basic goals, commitments, strategies, responsibilities and time frames for the club and are unique to the individual goals and actions of each club. Which means that there is a responsibility for those who undertake a commitment of a family violence action plan. In this particular case, there were two bodies associated with Liam Patricks employment that had signed onto the NO MORE campaign, those being the Central Australian Football League (CAFL) and the NTFC, both operated by AFLNT .

We now have, three bodies with a vested interest in the situation, the NO MORE campaign, NTFC and the CAFL.

The plans themselves you hope reduce the potential for domestic violence to occur in the first place, however when that fails there needs to be a support mechanism that comes into play from those actually establishing the bond.

Since both these parties had entered into a partnership with the NO MORE campaign, you’d feel they’d have the aspiration to work with clubs and players, who breach the plan, to ensure they do not re-offend.

The role of a ‘Professional Organisation & Amateur Organisation’

In this situation, it would be fair to say that as a professional organisation, with paid employees, AFLNT would have a better chance of assisting a player over an amateur club. However we do know that there is an expectation that an amateur club should be just as capable, as a recent precedent, although under different circumstances, highlights.  When we saw a club answerable to the same governing body over their inability to field a side in what was labelled ‘March Farce‘.

Ultimately when there is a breach of the action plan, it is just as serious, whether it’s a professional or amateur organisation. And we have seen positive examples in the Territory where amateur clubs have implemented internal suspensions, Nightcliff Football Club comes to mind. So expecting Federals Football Club in Alice Springs to be able to implement an action plan, under the guidance of the NO MORE campaign and the CAFL, is not out of the question.

Although it is important to recognise that as with many things within community organisations and NGO’s, it is the individual(s) that can make the difference between success and failure in these situations.

We don’t want to deviate from the fact that in this situation there is a professional body involved, of which the person in question is an employee and a contracted player.  Another aspect which should be considered, is that AFLNT would’ve been alerted to Liam Patrick wanting to play for the the Federals Football Club, once an on-line clearance was applied for, it would’ve had to have been approved, and without it, Liam Patrick wouldn’t have been allowed to play for the club.

So it should be fair to consider that as a professional sporting body is involved, there’s an expectation there would be a greater level of involvement, to protect the outcomes of all concerned parties.

As the famous ‘Shakespeare’s’ play ‘The Tempest’ proclaims, “What’s past is prologue”, so we have now set the scene, provided some background information, that hopefully highlight the learnings from this situation.

Some of the ‘lessons’ to consider going forward….

  1. NT News evaluate the long term ramifications of a story before publishing it.
  2. Charlie King meets with Liam Patrick, discusses the situation with him.
  3. AFLNT set internal controls to work with their employees and to assist them through situations such as these.
  4. AFLNT research the impacts of introducing ‘Code of Conducts’ for participants who take part in the competitions they oversee.
  5. NTFC be more proactive in how they manage players when there’s been a breach of criminal law.
  6. AFLNT and/or Thunder put precautionary measures in place that alert them to clearances applications such as these.
  7. AFLNT, through the CAFL operates programs for local clubs that promote recognition of the NO MORE campaign.

 

Liam Patrick, having a game with Federals in the Central Australian Football League
NT News photo of Liam Patrick, having a game with Federals in the Central Australian Football League
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