Good on ya', Barry. A sure sign of a real man is admitting you were wrong. A stronger sign is digging into the reasons why, putting the past behind you, then setting a new course in life.
If you missed the overnight news, Hall, 40, was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame. Some argued the former Saint, Swan and Bulldog didn't deserve this honour on account of his infamous sucker punch on West Coat player Brent Staker (the footage is here and it ain't pretty).
So did he deserve it?
In the AFL Hall of Fame's own words, "the committee considers candidates on the basis of record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship and character".
There's no question about Hall's "record" and "ability". He sits 15th on the all-time list of AFL goal kickers with 746, and the Sydney Swans would never have won that breakthrough 2005 flag without him.
As for "integrity", "sportsmanship" and "character", well, here's the thing.
Hall has changed, and we've seen two really good examples of that recently. One was on the SBS show 'Insight' a few weeks ago, when, with increasingly moistened eyes, he looked back at his tough upbringing that led to his occasionally violent ways.
You can watch that clip here (the interesting stuff is just after the 30 minute mark). Some of Barry's poignant reflections include:
- "I just wanted to impress Dad like most young kids. He was a boxer, so from the age of six or seven we'd have a punching bag and we'd go and punch it."
- "I didn't really want to do it, to be honest. It's a hard a sport, a really hard sport."
- "I lost my last fight and I actually used that as an excuse to get out of boxing. My Dad was so disappointed... he didn't like it. There were quite a few issues."
- "My Dad's a really hard man, he probably doesn't have lots of words of wisdom. It was all ego driven and it was drummed into you at a young age to not let anyone have anything over you, to always fight your way out of corners, all that sort of stuff. When I could channel that in the right way I could benefit from it, but in another sense it hindered me in a lot of ways too."
- "I don't like that [footage of me hitting Staker] at all. I was just an angry frustrated man, super competitive competitive. I was competitive to the point of being unhealthy. I'd make it personal if someone beat me, and I'd do anything to get them back
- "It was pretty ruthless the way I was raised. One day I came home with a cut on my cheek and got beaten up at school. The instructions were to go back next morning and fix it up, don't come home unless you do. I didn't want to go and fight the kid but I just felt like I had to. It's not something I'm proud of. I look at that [Staker footage] and I'm disgusted with it because he has to live through it now, not only me."
You pretty much just want to hug him after that, don't you? And if you don't, you will after hearing his remarks at his Hall of Fame induction, which included this excellent advice for blokes who think toughness is expressed through fists:
"I do a lot of speaking stuff and guys like to be guys and say, 'Ah, that [Staker punch] was great'. It's just a load of crap, it wasn't great. I'm a father now and I don't want my boy seeing his dad do that.
This reporter has met Hall once. I was working for a sports magazine and we booked Hall for a studio shoot and interview. Up he rocked in his big, nasty black ute. Here was one tough dude. Everything was in place. Image matched reality.
I don't often recall questions from old interviews but I remember asking Hall if people called him "Big Bad Barry" because the three Bs rolled together nicely, or if he really was bad.
He said he wasn't bad at heart but that, as I'd suggested, the repetition of the Bs just kind of sounded cool.
I'm not sure about that answer now. I think maybe he was still pretty bad at the time, and that he revelled in his image as a tough guy. Anyone who saw him drive away from the studio, black ute revving at full throttle, would have thought the same thing.
But it appears he really is beyond all that now, and I respect him for it. It must have been the hardest thing in the world, but here he is. Big Beautiful Barry.
While we're talking about old stories I've written, there's another which deserves airing at this moment. It's a story I wrote for another news site four years ago lamenting the Paul Gallen punch in a rugby league State of Origin match, which my youngest kid unfortunately saw on TV.
It was absolutely shocking and, yes, you can watch it in gory detail here if you really must.
Because of that violence beamed into the family home, I decided to boycott watching the next Origin match and instead go to the Australian Chamber Orchestra (you can read my account of that night here).
Four years on, I still get trolled for that story by so-called "real footy fans", who think I'm weak for taking a stance -- especially on days like this when there's an Origin match about to be played.
I wonder how many of the trolls would stick to their guns after watching some of Barry Hall's recent clips?
Well done again Baz for being a real bloke. And if you'd like to view some non-violent scenes from a great AFL career, there's a lovely video package here narrated by Hall's former Swans teammate and fellow 2005 premiership winner Michael O'Loughlin.
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