Seb Ross, Caroline Wilson, Trent Copeland, AFL news 2021

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Cricket star Trent Copeland has lamented some of the opinions being tossed around as the Caroline Wilson-St Kilda saga continues to bubble away, criticising the “baffling” lack of empathy afforded to professional athletes.

Wilson endured a media pile-on for the comments she made regarding the absence of Saints stars Seb Ross and Tim Membrey from their nailbiting loss to Adelaide in Round 13. The two players didn’t play because of family reasons, leading Wilson to claim “supporters and sponsors and members and other teammates would have every right to be a bit disappointed”.

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Garry Lyon was the first to hit back at Wilson, claiming he was “almost speechless” she would make such comments about a private matter. Richmond star Jack Riewoldt also took aim, labelling her public questioning as “idiotic”.

Wilson continued her staunch defence regarding Ross and Membrey’s absence, and revealed some footy figures were “horrified” the duo had missed the match. Last week she reported some figures within St Kilda were disappointed Ross and Membrey had gone home after being urged to stay.

“I think clubs have been getting frustrated with players and talking to the media about it since I started writing about footy in the early ‘80s,” Wilson said on ABC program Offsiders.

“I’ve been absolutely smashed for suggesting that some St Kilda fans and sponsors and members had a right to be a little bit disappointed that Seb Ross didn’t play for his club against Adelaide — a game they needed to win to make finals, and a game where they were struggling to field enough emergencies. It was a dire situation for St Kilda.

“I asked the question of them (St Kilda). I raised my eyebrows when I saw the report. I spoke to a lot of people in the industry who were, to be frank, some horrified, some really disappointed that the players weren’t playing.

“I certainly thought it was a legitimate question, though, and after that I went to St Kilda and learnt there had been significant angst within the club.”

Fellow Offsiders panellist, AFL and cricket broadcaster Alister Nicholson, questioned whether employees in other industries would be afforded the luxury of taking time off during an important situation.

Nicholson also flagged the possibility of more mercenaries emerging in cricket as players chase paydays in overseas leagues rather than prioritising international cricket — a point raised after seven Australian stars opted out of a white ball tour to the West Indies next month.

“It’s an interesting discussion around the way sports professionals are perceived,” Nicholson said. “Are they perceived the same way as people who work in big business?

“Tell me someone who works in finance who would be able to get out of work when a critical deal needs to be crunched — and this was a critical situation for St Kilda with their season hanging by a thread.

“Is a footballer exempt from the responsibility of any other employee? On the one side they talk about the responsibility the code has to them, their employers have to them in terms of pay and conditions. Is this not a both ways thing?”

However, Copeland — who played three Tests for Australia and still represents NSW — called for more empathy to be shown to athletes, saying nothing should ever come above family and personal wellbeing.

“Gee I think the point has been missed here/in general with Seb Ross & the cricketers,” Copeland tweeted.

“NO situation. Not work, not sport, not anything is more important than a person’s individual wellbeing & family.

“It’s not a ‘Hey cool, yep I’m having a holiday this week’.

“Every one of these decisions & to Al’s (Nicholson) point in finance if a deal is missed due to needing to be at home is discussed with the ‘bosses’ in collaboration for what’s best all things considered.

“The unfortunate fact is people have a generic view that ‘athletes are paid well so should suck it up’.

“No one is saying athletes have it as tough as some, far from it, but the lack of awareness/care for individual scenarios is baffling.”


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