The AFL and the James Hird Affair

James Hird is the latest victim of the pressures put on players and coaches.

Fri, 20 Jan, 12:00 AM

In an all too often scene among professional footballers in our country, James Hird is the latest victim of the pressures put on players and coaches.

Hird had been admitted to an undisclosed medical facility to recover from a drug overdose. The overdose likely due to the immense public pressure and scrutiny he’d copped since news of the notorious Essendon peptide scandal broke. Many Essendon fans lay the blame squarely on Hird’s shoulders, echoing that he should have known of the club’s business in his role as head coach.

Hird infamously took centre stage to face the media in addressing the peptides scandal that befell the Essendon Football club. The once beloved son of the club was being strung out to take a barrage of criticism in the wake of ASADA’s findings. ASADA deemed that Essendon players had been given substances which were classified as performance enhancing.

Hird’s playing career (1992-2007) could only be described as stellar, it included two AFL Premierships (1993, 2000) under the guidance of the legendary Kevin Sheedy. The five-time All Australian’s returned to the Bombers as head coach in 2011 in a decision widely endorsed by Essendon fans.

Since leaving his post as coach of the Dons in August 2015 following a shocking run of results, Hird attempted to keep a low profile. However, the aftermath of the scandal had rocked Hird and his family to the core, making it near impossible to resume his regular life. His reputation had been dragged through the mud.

Steven Amendola, the lawyer who represented Hird during the legal proceedings, has openly criticized the AFL for their role in the situation. Amendola has been a harsh critic of the AFL and the way they handled the Essendon saga.

“From what I have observed over the past number of years, it seems that you can glass your partner, you can sleep with your best friend’s wife and the path of forgiveness will always be open in AFL land” – “But if your name is James Hird that path will be blocked” Amendola stated.

Years ago, Kevin Sheedy had put to the AFL the idea that coaches should obtain minimum requirements to be allowed to coach in the league. Given the responsibilities, public pressure and lofty standards that are a part of the head coaching regime, training and support for new coaches should be improved in the wake of what has befallen Hird and his family.

At the end of the day, the lack of evidence relating to Hird having a direct causal impact in the administration of these prohibited substances is what makes this story all the more disappointing. A legend in his own right, seemingly taking his dream job, has had the rug pulled out from under him.

It seems iffy at best, but hopefully the AFL treats the Hird affair as a significant learning experience. It is clear there is a need to implement and/or improve the current checks and balances in place to protect coaches from the unfortunate series of events that have unfolded in the case of James Hird.


Nik Hatzi


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