As AFL footballers, we are role models. Children aspire to play football and watch closely our behaviours. Grown men place themselves in the shoes of Joel Selwood as he barges through a tackle.
But AFL players are members of the community too, and although we have a public profile, we are no better or worse than the next person. Being footballers does not make us immune to any of life's difficulties; be it depression, addiction, the flu, or simply having a bad day, we experience it all. The difference is that our battles are often made public.
Football clubs provide terrific support networks and leave no stone unturned where the welfare of players are concerned. The AFL Players' Association does an excellent job to ensure that there are programs in place and services available for all players, whatever their needs might be.
The bubble that the modern AFL environment has created means that players have the utmost chance of fulfilling their potential, not only as an athlete, but more importantly, a person.
Most players thrive in this environment, but of course there are exceptions. Each individual handles pressure and privilege differently and, as a result, many factors need to be considered when judging a player's actions.
A player's character and resulting behavior is often due to a combination of several factors: club culture, the individual's personality, values and upbringing all contribute. Depending on the culture created within a club, teammates can be held accountable at times, especially if they're allowing colleagues to get in compromising or "high risk" situations. Yet at the end of the day, responsibility must rest solely on the shoulders of the individual.
We are young, impressionable men thrust into the spotlight at the age of 17 and 18, and largely unskilled in the ability to deal with such a unique scenario. We are privileged and extremely lucky to be doing what we do, yet with this come responsibility.
There's a responsibility to the history and ethos of our clubs, to the supporters of the game, to our teammates, and to our friends and family. The bad times are felt by all, and often magnified more than the good times.
The scrutiny and expectations placed on young men forces an instant maturity, which unfortunately results in the occasional misdemeanor along the way. And the media's lust for that elusive headline, or breaking story, means people need to carefully measure opinions and ensure facts are collated before passing judgment. Otherwise we risk the unfair public dismissal and ridicule of players, their clubs and teammates.
Rightly or wrongly, redemption seems only one match away. All is forgiven and forgotten provided we adhere to team structures and play our role for the side. Such is the bubble that is the AFL.
As AFL players we have to find our feet like all young men, only we do it under the bright lights of the community. We are prone, like all, to tripping up on occasions. Let's keep that in mind, and remain measured when passing judgment.