Hey sport, you just put your foot in it

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WHEN OPENING your mouth, you must take great care to not place your foot in it. LAWRENCE MONEY reviews the perils of trying to crack a joke:

IT WAS when Michael Slater was rambling on about Aussie opener David Warner during the Ashes – telling viewers that Warner “works hard at his fitness, does a lot of sprint training” – that former Aussie captain Ian Chappell chipped in:

“Trying to make sure he can beat his wife?”

Slater scooted on hastily, explaining that wife Candice Falzon was a top runner, an iron woman, so the sound of Chappelli’s clanger hitting the floor slowly faded away.

Still, one assumes a quiet word has since been whispered in Chappelli’s sunburned ear that there are certain words that sit uneasily together in today’s world. “Beat” and “wife” are two of them.

For sportsmen past and present, making any sort of attempt at humour these days is fraught with peril. Former tennis star John Alexander, a knockabout sort of bloke before the word “knockabout” came within the definition of unwarranted physicality, made a joke at his own expense during the Bennelong by-election.

Johnny, the sitting member, recalled the time his back was so bad the doc said he qualified for a disabled parking sticker if he wanted it. “No thanks, I still l have some pride,” quipped Alexander.

Cue the offence-industry finger-waggers who saw this as a shocking insult to the ability-challenged and howled accordingly. Alexander did a “sorry” but activists called it a “half-apology” and wanted an apology for the apology.

Problem is, Alexander (like Chappelli) hails from a more laid-back era where you could crack a self-deprecating joke and the audience would “get it”. There were no hashtag campaigns, no social media mutts nipping at your ankles, no limelight desperadoes wanting to score puritan points.

Chapelli: caught in slips. Artwork Gordon Napier.
Chapelli: caught in slips. Artwork Gordon Napier.

Not so easy now. Today’s Book of Sensitive Subjects is large indeed with “RACISM” listed right up there in caps. Early this year Broncos forward Sam Thaiday put his foot in it while discussing his preference in women. His first boyhood crush was on Afro-American actress Halle Berry, Thaiday told the NRL Footy Show, but he had since figured out that “if it ain’t white, it ain’t right”.

Sound the sirens. Call the militia! Not funny, Jan! As required, Thaiday made a complete, unrestricted, unreserved, navel-grazing apology for his “poorly chosen words” and his “poor attempt at humour” and the offence warriors, having claimed their scalp, moved on to find new culprits.

Three months later they found another NRL offender: Matty Johns whose TV show had milked a laugh by getting kids to try to pronounce the long names of Polynesian players. It was actually pretty funny until everyone was reminded how RACIST and HURTFUL and DISRESPECTFUL this OUTRAGE was to Pacific Island communities and their families.

Johns was swift to prostrate himself before the TV cameras. ”From everyone in the show, but particularly me, because I’m responsible for the show and it’s my name on the show and I take responsibility for everything that is on it. I’d like to apologise for any hurt or offence we have caused, and we have caused offence and we have caused hurt and I acknowledge that. For that, I just want to say that I and we are sincerely sorry, so apologies.”

It wasn’t always this way. At the 2008 Olympics Scottish comic Frankie Boyle told critics to “go jump” after saying that British swimmer Rebecca Adlington’s face looked like a twisted reflection in the back of a spoon. Despite 75 complaints to the BBC, Boyle didn’t apologise.

Worse. During the 2012 Olympics Boyle tweeted to his 800,000 followers that Adlington’s “dolphin face” gave her an unfair swimming advantage.

Again, no apology but that episode became a win-win. Adlington swam like a dolphin to win a bronze in the 400m freestyle – and as of last week Boyle had more than trebled his Twitter following to 2.78 million. No joke.


Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.



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