Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Open letter to Gary Ablett Jr.

An Open letter to Gary Ablett Jr.

Dear Gary,

As your impending decision approaches, I would like to offer a different perspective: that of a Geelong fan living in North America. I'd also like to draw some parallels between your situation and that of a hoops star of a different breed, LeBron James, the basketballer who recently found himself in similar circumstances.

I'm sure you know of LeBron: he's arguably the best player on the planet, the runaway winner of the past two NBA MVP awards. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, have steamrolled through the league for the last three seasons much as the Cats have done in the AFL. Unfortunately for him tough, they've not experienced the same finals success as Geelong. Over the past year much of the media publicity surrounding the NBA has not come as a result of his or his team's performance, but because at season's end, James's contract expired and he became a free agent along with several of the best players in the league.

After an unprecedented media frenzy, LeBron's “people” scheduled a nationwide hourlong special on ESPN last Thursday where he would announce his decision. After much speculation, LeBron did as the pundits expected and chose he felt were better opportunities for the future – one with better weather - the Miami Heat. And he did it for the same money that Cleveland was offering.

I can't help but see some similarities in your respective future career choices.

As a Geelong fan, I'm obviously on tenterhooks awaiting where you'll play next year. To be honest, I couldn't fault you for going to the Gold Coast – especially for the money reportedly on offer. I can't even fault LeBron for his choice. But what I ask is that if you choose the Gold rather than Surf Coast, you don't insult your fans, your hometown, and teammates like LeBron James.

I'm not talking about choosing another city in which to continue your career. But by making his fans, teammates and club the last to know, popular opinion has swung against James so strongly that everyone now regards his ESPN special as misguided, at the very best; most agree that it was perhaps the most self-centred thing that a “team-oriented” athlete could do; some even posit that the TV special has tarnished his legacy

Most people in North America knew that LeBron was sorely tempted by Miami and it was probable he would depart Cleveland. His camp misjudged the situation however, and the hour-long special came off as self-promotion rather than explanation. The best comparison I can make was that inviting your partner onto “Jerry Springer” only to tell them you were having a baby with their sister. Sure Cleveland was upset that he'd been “unfaithful” – but the manner the news was delivered made the city want nothing to do with him ever again except boo.

If you leave, Gary, fair enough – you're completely entitled to look after yourself and your future. But if the decision is GC17, please don't tell us why. We don't have many articulate athletes and those that are get shackled by team rules and the expectation that all any player will say is “Man-Talk”: the same hackneyed cliches. We cry out for articulateness. We scream for someone who will publicly say more than “We're taking things one week at a time” or “We're excited about the prospect of playing Team X, Y or Z next week”. But this is different. This is a situation where ONLY hackneyed cliches will work.

You see, it will be seen by Geelong as a breakup. Some breakups are predestined because the parties were unsuited at the start. Other times, both parties realise it's time to go in their own directions. After two (hopefully three) premierships, a hatful of awards and recognition as one of the great teams of the modern era, perhaps you feel it's time to strike out separately.

Delivering the break-up speech, it's impossible for the “breaker” to look good by the words you choose, but you can come out looking much, much worse. After “I've decided we shouldn't see each other any more”, the “breakee” often doesn't take in a lot more due to shock. And we are, as a public, similar. Please don't let the media circus that this situation will undoubtedly generate go to your head and allow you think your motives are important to us now. In time, these factors will become completely apparent and we'll make our peace with them.

If you choose the Gold Coast it won't be a betrayal, nor should it be seen as one. But if a decision is compounded by a lack of class as LeBron's was, it seems like betrayal. We can forgive an affront, but following a breakup with an insult creates different wounds that rarely heal completely.

Choose well, Gary. We have enjoyed you for eight years, and I hope you finish your career in Geelong. The level of public interest and media coverage surrounding your decision is unprecedented in Australia. But please learn from an older, more experienced and more cynical market as you look at all your options.


Matthew Wood

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