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We Must Resist Calls To Punt The 'Fairest' Element From The Brownlow Medal

"Don't meddle with the medal."

10/08/2017 1:28 PM AEST | Updated 11/08/2017 9:05 AM AEST
Adam Trafford/AFL Media via Getty Images
Last year's Brownlow winner Patrick Dangerfield is ineligible in this year's count following a one-week suspension for a controversial tackle.

In the wake of Patrick Dangerfield's controversial one-week suspension, there have been calls to scrap the 'fairest' element from the Brownlow Medal count.

Dangerfield, who has arguably been the best player in the AFL all season, is ineligible to win the Brownlow following a dangerous tackle on Matthew Kruezer, which left the Carlton player concussed.

It has reignited the 'best and fairest' debate in AFL media circles. Jon Ralph wrote in the Herald Sun that it was "time to banish that archaic tradition of 'fairest' to the same place where the drop kick and flick pass now reside".

Former Brownlow Medal recipient Adam Cooney shared a similar sentiment, saying the best player should win the medal no matter what.

With no disrespect to those quoted above, I find their statements to be highly disconcerting.

Removing the 'fairest' requirement would simply devalue the prized award and its long history of winners.

The 'fairest' element in the Brownlow Medal is a vital aspect of our national sporting code. It's a part of our tradition and it speaks to the game's future.

If we were to eliminate that element, what message does it send to the next generation of AFL footballers? What are we teaching our children, who innocently run around with their mates on the weekend, by scrapping the word 'fairest' from this prestigious award?

Are we okay with telling the players of the future that it is perfectly fine for them to be the best, no matter how they go about it?

We certainly shouldn't be.

Like salt and pepper, the words 'best' and 'fairest' go hand in hand when it comes to sport in Australia. It is absolutely crucial and speaks to what all sport should be about; sportsmanship and fairness along with skill and competition.

It should be heralded and celebrated, not eliminated.

The 'Charlie' acknowledges the player (or players) every year who not only outperforms all others, but upholds the values of the AFL. Values such as 'Play as one Team', 'Play Fair', 'Play to Win' and 'Play with Passion'. These are the values we want to impart onto our young girls and boys.

No one could say Patrick Dangerfield does not represent these values. His Brownlow Medal win last year proved not only his elite status, but his highly respectable attitude and approach to football.

His situation this year is certainly an unfortunate one. Multiple rule changes over the past few years have left fans and players alike confused at how the AFL interprets a dangerous tackle.

But changing how the Brownlow Medal is awarded is not the answer. We should not value rare footballing narratives of back-to-back Brownlow Medal wins over moral standards that have underpinned Australian rules for more than 100 years.

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As Tim Watson told SEN radio: "While this has again led to calls to change the Brownlow from fairest to best, back to best, I disagree. It's a tradition that should be aspired to and upheld."

The first Brownlow Medal was awarded in 1924 and it has long been recognised as the highest individual honour in professional Australian football. Removing the 'fairest' requirement would simply devalue the prized award and its long history of winners.

Many would argue that removing just this one word, and therefore allowing those players who have been suspended to win the medal, to be an inconsequential action. But in a world where we are increasingly confronted with disturbing stories of dishonesty and violence, we should cling on to simple words such as 'fairest'. They speak to our humanity, to our values and to what is morally important.

The 'fairest' element is a curio of the past we should keep and celebrate, not banish.

In the words of Tim Watson: "Let's not meddle with the medal".

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