On my recent Lunchtime Catch Up Podcast I made the below statement at the end on Hird. Got some positive reaction so I thought I would share on Blitz
Purists of the game know Hird was equal to a Glenn Archer or Paul Kelly when it came to bravery. James consistently showed little regard for his welfare and would strive to do anything humanly possible to achieve a victory for the football team that he loved as a kid… and who his Grand Father played 102 games for in the 40’s. His family, team mates and Essendon’s legacy were dear to him.
Unfortunately James Hird’s bravery on and off field came at a cost on many fronts, no more horrific than Round 6, 2002 against Fremantle at Subiaco where an errant knee from close friend Mark McVeigh made his face almost unrecognisable and resulted in having numerous metal plates placed in his face. In typical Hird fashion though he willed himself to come back to the team. Hird defied all the odds and possibly Doc Reid’s medical advice to return only 8 weeks later in round 14 against the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. This game holds dear to me as I had never been in such awe to what James could accomplish in the face of adversity. Hird then looking very different, sporting a cushioned black head protector. It was early in the 1st quarter and the moment of truth had arrived, a Bulldog player and Hird running towards the ball head on and to an amazing gasp, Hird goes head first into the contest and wins the footy to give Essendon the crucial possession. It may have only seemed like a normal routine play to the common fan but the significance of Hird’s character and will to win was all in display for the rest of us fans to see. Hird finished the game with 25 possessions and was voted best on ground. After the game I commented to a friend “what I witnessed today was truly a living legend of the sport and The Essendon Football Club”
Hird was also driven to study and educate himself in business and successfully completed a bachelor’s civil engineering course in 1998 to later become manager of his own sports marketing and media consultancy company Gemba. He seemed always wanting to learn and educate himself better.
So fast forward to February 2013 and I am seeing my hero James Hird, David Evans and Ian Robson announce to the world that my football club will be investigated for questionable practices and governance at the club for happenings in 2012. The word illegal substances are mentioned on TV and I am lost, shattered, confused and in complete shock. As I look on Hird’s face I realise myself and him are strangely in the exact same thought process.
What followed was hundreds of articles written on the drug AOD 9604, off site injections, player’s risk of future health and Dean Robinson on my TV giving a scathing report on Hird and claiming police had raided his house and that Hird was the architect and supporter of the supplements/injection program. Police reported within 24 hours that Dean’s raid claim was false but the damage was done. Dean decided to do a pre-emptive strike on Hird to help clear his name first knowing full well it was his department and leadership at fault. It was clear that the investigation moved from looking at the club as a whole to focusing on just one man’s role. Strangely that role was the senior coach who did not manage the supplements program…that in fact was the man just mentioned in front of a channel 7 camera with Luke Darcy caught lying about a police raid and his then manager Paul Hamilton who had disappeared completely. The ones at fault laid low and bolted…the one’s trying to save the players stood up.
So why was Hird aggressively targeted and nominated as the overseeing architect? On the surface it seemed the public, media and representatives of the game had strangely dismissed 20 years of Hird putting so much into the image and integrity of the game. Hird seemed to suddenly run the Essendon Football club himself and all departments within the club? James was accused of making it about himself and not Essendon which to us fans was the complete opposite of how we have seen James live his life for over 20 years.
In August 2013, Hird was charged by the AFL which resulted in a 12 month suspension from the game. All his charges and details outlined from the ASADA Interim report were laid out in a leading newspaper for the whole world to see. The man of 20 years who I admire more than any other player was publically humiliated. Confidentiality is a word that got incredibly lost in the whole process. Hird frustratingly bound by that same confidentiality was thrown to the Lions without an avenue of reply. It is lost by so many that Hird has actually apologised for not doing more concerning the events of 2012. In fact he has on six separate occasions, the notion Hird has not taken responsibility for what he believes was his part seems to be only considered by personnel outside of the club or people filled with mis-guided hate that they don’t want to acknowledge simple realities.
Asada investigators in fact praised Hird in 2013 and told the players to be guided by him…acknowledging his integrity. Hird told ASADA ‘I have an issue with people who give people illegal products and things that would harm them. My philosophy is as stated , that any product that goes to a player must not harm them, must be approved by AFL and WADA and the player has to consent to it, and the doctor’s the ultimate final say– and that was expressed to Dean Robinson all the time’.
So what is it about James Hird that still leaves so much anger? Somehow the Hird family became the Kardashian’s and were treated like Hollywood style gossip pages. If you put together the first 3-4 years of the saga you could put all of Hird’s quotes about the investigation on 2 pages. He rarely spoke and expected officials to morally do their job well. He naively thought the best of everyone and expected processes to be carried out ethically. Hird never once spoke ill of someone, never abused a journalist, an ASADA representative or AFL official. This is all the while his wife was mis-treated in papers and even worse his kids being photographed and bullied. To this day I cannot comprehend the amount of grace and restraint Hird showed.
In 2015 Hird admitted to calling Beyond Blue after leaving Essendon and struggling with life. In early 2017 we got the sad news of Hird being rushed to hospital. The care from AFL community was slightly better but as we know now it can be short lived.
One day before the AFL drop a huge sex scandal conveniently announce James Hird was due to present the Norm Smith medal. Timing is everything when it comes to AFL optics. From all initial indications Hird seems more likely to say yes but it’s still to be confirmed officially. Just after the news broke we quickly got an indication on where some of society is at. It was a very sad reflection on how many Australians were so little educated on the Hird story. It again reminds me of the dangers of poor journalism and how it can shape a society. We have a good man who has completed his suspension and bravely worked his way back from depression to enjoying family and life with a successful new career in chocolate at Cacao Hunters. Damn its good chocolate too just quietly. In what should be a moment of celebration and a chance to re-enter the footy field where Hird starred became a backlash of anger and a desire to not let him move on in anyway.
Let’s face it, these 3 AFL Executives who got fired on the weekend will have a break and no one will mention them again in a month’s time. The AFL community have let Carey and Lyon come back to footy and that is what should happen. People do their time and community as a whole should always embrace forgiveness and applauding when they get back on their feet. If we can’t celebrate that anymore with James Hird who’s crime is minimal at best then we as a society should be looking at the mirror now…not James.
James Hird retired in 2007 after playing 253 games, he as a player achieved:
• 2 Premierships in 1993 and 2000
• Brownlow Medal in 1996
• Was Captain of Essendon for 7 years
• Premiership Captain & Norm Smith Medallist in 2000
• 5 x time Crichton Medallist(Best and Fairest)
• 5 x time All Australian
• Essendon team of the Century Half Forward
• Voted Number three in all time Essendon Legends
• AFL Hall of Fame inductee
• Jim Stynes Medallist
• 3 time Anzac Day medallist
This was a special player and one of the all-time greats. James will be remembered by Essendon fans as one the most revered loved players in the club’s modern history - probably since John Coleman or Reynolds. He was a star in every sense of the word: exquisitely talented, brave even to the detriment of his own health, inspirational, fair, highly educated and articulate. I had the honour of being invited to see James in 2014 when he read my article in The Age. The article outlined the importance of hearing James story, assessing his 20 year career and not pre judging from false lazy headlines.
In the social media world we are so quick to judge with very little substance behind our attacks. But our attacks can cause enormous pressure and grief to families. Time we grow up and show a little more compassion and understanding. Find out key information on matters before you speak. Lift up people who seek to do good in this world…even if at times they make mistakes. When I met James in 2014 he was exactly how I thought he would be…humbled, quiet and gracious. I again met him this year selling chocolate. He recognized me and to my surprise he just wanted to talk about Essendon and the draftees coming through. Asking me who I like coming through. It was a great chat and I sensed the coach in him was still burning a little. He then passionately let me know how much Cacao Hunters is changing communities overseas from once cocaine fields to cocoa. I thought to myself even now you’re looking to help others through your business. That’s who James is.
I sincerely say all the best James in whatever you decide to do mate with Norm Smith decision…but let me make it very clear on behalf of over 60,000 fans at Essendon….there is no one more entitled than yourself to award a highly coveted medal to a next generation champion on Grand Final day. It’s what the game and more importantly you deserve right now.