Massive overreaction to Sam Draper non-story proves players can’t even enjoy harmless fun anymore


The AFL world can throw up some weird and not-so-wonderful storylines from time to time.

The comments Sam Draper made about Luke Beveridge and the Western Bulldogs on his podcast a few weeks ago should be put in the ‘mountain out of a molehill’ category, if not outright as the most unnecessary AFL story of the year.

In the tough and high-pressure environment of football where you are virtually in the spotlight 24/7, what is the problem in players having some harmless fun from time to time? Does everything need to be taken so seriously?

Speaking on the Clubby Sports’ 200PLUS podcast, Draper made out he had a scoop: “I’ve got a big call about the Doggies. If Bevo’s still there, there’ll be some players requesting trades.”

From there, it has been reported that Essendon came down on him like a ton of bricks, though came short of fining or dropping him – the club insisted he missed the Eagles game through injury.

Brad Scott then made the brazen claim that these comments had the potential to undo all the hard work the club has done trying to win respect from the rest of the league.

“He’s very, very clear how disappointed I was. He thought he was in an environment where he thought he was being funny. I said ‘mate, it’s the furthest thing from funny. It’s disrespectful’,” Scott said after the Bombers’ win over West Coast

Luke Beveridge also had his chance to reply, calling the comments “bizarre”, and basically thanking the Bombers management for their quick action towards Draper.

But here’s the issue: were his comments in a context where he should have been taken seriously?

If we are going to slap a label on that and call it offensive, we have lowered the bar on players to a nearly unobtainable level without them becoming robots or propaganda mouthpieces.

Clubby Sports has 23,000 subscribers on its YouTube page and from what I have listened to, 200PLUS aims to be more entertainment-based than hard information-based.

One of the podcasters even has an open beer as he is presenting in one of the shared clips.

That immediately sets the context that they are not trying to be a Caroline Wilson, Tom Morris or Mark Robinson. I’m not saying these guys can’t “break” a story if they find one, but listeners will tune in to hear an insightful yarn from a player rather than the news.

An unusual one… In jest or otherwise, this has caused some issues today for Sam Draper.@essendonfc’s leaders spoke to him & reminded him & this is not what the club stands for & humility is important.

The club also contacted the @westernbulldogs, who aren’t happy with what…

— Tom Morris (@tommorris32) May 1, 2024

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Its worth noting that this wasn’t even a saga entirely fuelled by the media: the fallout was largely driven by Scott and the Bombers’ hierarchy. If they didn’t reprimand Draper, the media outlets wouldn’t have reported on it, or asked Luke Beveridge to respond and blow this out of proportion.

There’s been an intriguing sequel to Bomber Sam Draper’s podcast remarks about the future of Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge. @xandermcg9 #9News

— 9News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) May 2, 2024

The truth is many AFL fans wouldn’t have heard the comments if not repeated and amplified – indeed, the podcast dropped on April 24, and it was only a week later where the Dons’ discontent with what Draper said was reported and made news. The Bulldogs players and Beveridge himself may have otherwise been blissfully unaware as they prepared to take on the Hawks.

Of those listeners who did hear the comments, none must have taken them seriously, given the time it took to become public.

And it’s worth noting this: how many others in footy media, or fans tuning in, have been saying the same thing about the struggling Bulldogs already?

Administrators of the game, and clubs, seem more interested in going after and controlling things that will attack the image surrounding the commercial product of the AFL brand rather than the fabric and integrity of the on-field game.

But even to that end, if Draper took the game into disrepute, why wasn’t he fined or stood down by the club or referred to the AFL, as per his playing contract? Probably because everyone knew they were innocuous comments not worth wasting any time.

The challenging part of governing podcasts is that this form of media is not directly covered in the AFL Players’ Association’s Collective Bargaining Agreement 2023-27, nor the AFL’s regulations. So, there could be the argument of what is private comment, and what is a statement coming from an official AFL representative.

Bombers ruckman Sam Draper. (Photo by Rob Blakers/Getty Images)

It’s potentially dangerous territory for the game with more and more players opting for these outside podcasts over interviews with AFL-accredited journalists and commentators, who the AFL does have a little bit of power over through the threat of terminating contracts and stripping accreditation.

Just ask the NRL’s Phil Gould, who was effectively censored in the way of a fine for calling the game’s new rules ‘stupid’, because he is also a contracted official at the Canterbury Bulldogs.

Draper hasn’t been the only player to come under fire for comments made on a podcast recently. Back in 2022 while playing with Collingwood, Jack Ginnivan gave the “Goes Alright” podcast a frank admission that he may have played for free kicks.

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In other codes, NRL player Selwyn Cobbo made infamous remarks about Kevin Walters last year on the Back of the 135 podcast: “I don’t think he’s a good coach”. He was fined $15,000 by the club.

It makes you wonder: if players are going to cop this sort of backlash for showing a bit of personality and attempting some sarcastic humour for the entertainment of the public, then why should they bother with their time?

Many fans are becoming sick of the one-trick ponies and styles of the traditional media, and are looking for alternative podcasts.

If AFL and club officials are going to keep condemning the slightest spicy comment, it’s only going to hurt those who consume the game as followers, by not having any personality available to connect with.

It’s not like players need the extra responsibility given their already busy schedules and the pressure of being in the public eye.

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