It has been common following latest developments in the tragedy of James Hird to preface any discussion with the acknowledgement that he is a ‘divisive figure’. Many have rushed to point out that whether you ‘love him, or hate him’, you should have the decency to look beyond his ‘mistakes’ and treat him as a human being.
Such comments, while superficially appearing to be well meaning, only further entrench the misconceptions that have created the predicament in which Hird currently finds himself.
Hird is not a ‘divisive figure’, at least not under any reasonable assessment of the facts. Sure there will be many who hate his mere existence – probably jealous Collingwood or Hawthorn supporters, but in direct relation to The Saga negative opinions of James Hird are wholly without merit, as are the casual allusions to his ‘mistakes’ as though they were mere mundane facts that couldn’t possibly be contested.
It was decided from the very beginning that Hird would be sacrificed ‘for the greater good of the game’. His only crime was to have integrity and to stand up: for himself, for his players, for his club, for the truth, and to challenge those who foolishly sought to orchestrate an outcome over which they never had any control.
When a desperate AFL House deployed vile propaganda to finally force Hird into submission and accept an unjust punishment, he agreed to nothing. He didn’t plead guilty, for there was nothing of which he could be guilty, so instead he pleaded ‘present’.
Hird’s irrelevance to the supplements program was supported by all lines of evidence, and as such he was not pursued in any of the anti-doping cases: not by the AFL, not by ASADA, and not by WADA.
Furthermore, it is acknowledged that Hird’s role within the club meant that he was not ‘in the top 20 or 30 people’ responsible for the program. He was not a sports scientist. He was not a chemist nor a doctor nor a medical expert. He wasn’t even in the high performance department. He didn’t hire the staff. He didn’t write the cheques. He possessed no technical knowledge nor direct input into the program or the substances. In short, he lacked the authority and the expertise to ever be the evil mastermind of a doping regime that he was portrayed to be. Yet despite all this he became the convenient high-profile face to the saga.
Of those more responsible, some received cushy appointments and business opportunities, others lavish payouts, while yet more disappeared silently into the night. None were punished, with the exception of Stephen Dank, who was only ever adjudged guilty for deeds outside of his work at Essendon.
Hird’s perceived evils are confined to grossly misinformed public opinion, directed by AFL House and its dishonest, or plain incompetent, media contingent.
To constantly speak of Hird’s failings, or advance the notion that hating him is a perfectly reasonable position for one to hold, is to reinforce the public ignorance that must be corrected to restore Hird’s mental well being.
There is a vital distinction between typical mental health issues, that can affect anyone at any time and seemingly without cause, and finally crumbling under the weight of a coordinated and sustained campaign to destroy one’s life that has endured for four years and counting.
A great man; honest, loyal and caring to a fault, a champion on and off field, has been discarded, ostracised, vilified and abandoned by those he once counted as friends and colleagues. His once impeccable reputation has been destroyed without cause, or a shred of remorse from the perpetrators (or their spineless colleagues who claim to be better but consistently failed to hold their peers to account). Hird has been exiled from his profession, passion and livelihood. He has lost connection with his club that has been his life since birth. And throughout the entire ordeal worthless parasites masquerading as professionals have been camped on his front lawn harassing the man and his family in a shameful practice that has persisted even after Hird’s hospitalisation.
There are some within football who will not be satisfied until James Hird is dead, and they may get their wish. Mental health is fragile and once fractured sometimes it may never be fully restored. Perhaps his issues can be treated, but the answer is not drugs, or therapy. In this particular case, the factors in his decline are entirely environmental. To restore Hird’s health his persecution must cease, and that starts by apologising and correcting the public record, not by pretending to care while reinforcing the cause.