Saturday, 8 March 2008

Sam Newman leaves a lasting impression in under 2:45.

Melbourne ex-footballer, TV celebrity and man of some interest, Sam Newman, performs 'Begin the Beguine' at the annual AFL, P.J O'Rourke Dinner. The bar opens at seven and fights start at half-past.

In Melbourne they have ‘The Footy Show’, a generally sunny, sometimes nerve wracking and peculiar, analysis and antic filled TV program dedicated to all things footy more or less. I turned it on as Sam Newman, the mysterious to me and wonderfully loud footballer and more, gestured for those so inclined to follow him out of the studio to the yard. There was from dodgy memory, a hoop about one and a half tennis courts away.

Sam carried a football and standing with his back to the hoop that was at the opposite end to him, he said something like “I’m going to knock this ball three times into that ring”. And he did. It was a moment, fantastic and kind of hilariously impressive all at once. I dug it. Everyone was duly damn impressed and I could see that even his peers, who have known him a long time, were buzzing too. It was really something.

It wasn’t just that he did it, and that was enough, but it was his demeanour before, during and after he did it. It was more than mere nonchalance or a casual tone. It was for him it seemed, like breathing, except Newman could breathe better than anyone else, making mere civilians appear like dying fish sucking air on a pier. And it hinted at a lot more beneath this swingin’ free sample I witnessed.

I’ve never forgotten it and I wonder what effect it may have had on me if I saw such surprising and local men when I was a kid. He’s a funny guy, eh? There’s something more to young Samuel than meets the eye, though you never can tell with such ah, off handedness. But there’s gotta be, Mister!

And there is. Sam Newman does what can appear the most deliberately provocative and clownish things because er, they mildly are. But he’s a lotta fun and that face is not the face of a fool. Though I've done some incompetent research, I still know little about Newman really. So my opinions are limited and in er, contention as they say at Wikipedia.

"…Most people you meet are wankers, pure and simple. Women are schemers, men are liars. That is all you have to remember". Does he like women? "Of course I do. But I'm just about the only heterosexual left in my street. I'm thinking of leaving the country before being gay becomes compulsory. I like women. Just remember they are schemers". Sam Newman in The Age newspaper.

Though once, we did own a café right in front of where Newman sometimes liked to do his interviews of random locals, who were often oddly willing dupes for a particular style of pseudo ritualised humiliation and ridicule. Maybe he'd be one of the few celebrities in Australia I’d perhaps like to get to know privately. But what do I know?

'Newman lives by himself in Brighton. He spends much time alone but says he is not lonely. "The sweetest sound in life is the back door shutting. No, the back gate. First there is Sinatra, then Count Basie, then the back gate." Sam Newman in The Age.

So maybe his natural schtick can seem kinda Graham Kennedy via sub-Don Rickles and Peter Cook and a little bit of a cement mixer, but mostly Sam Newman. A ballsy, smart, skilful, honest and energetic guy, he also looks more than a little like P.J O’Rourke. So far some folks have said “he ain’t no good!” Maybe so. Or maybe Newman is merely dealing with the jungle of celebrity. Maybe he’s a bastard or his judgement is off and sometimes on. Newman is also surprisingly open.

I can say though, that there are absolutely no bastards in sports and media management. Not one.

"And he would say: why do you get in verbal stoushes with people, why don't you just walk away? Why? Because with people who have a mission, an agenda, why let them get away with it at your expense? Why let people roll over you?" Sam Newman.

Sam Newman now has an awful prostrate cancer and delivered some straight lines that leave a clear feeling of a lot more going on, which in this case, there obviously is. Unsurprisingly, I imagine the actual Newman exists only out of public view, but what do I know? Who wouldn’t? More than a few people could quite easily top any of Sam’s fairly harmless japes for threat. People are gee, sometimes dangerous.

Now I just happened to catch this little piece of TV and I wonder now what other things I may have missed? And one of the reasons I didn’t catch more, is that my folks thought sport was mostly boring, repetitive and pointless group crap of no real importance and merely a game. And they were right and wrong.

It’s not just about the game itself per se, though for many it can be. It’s the intrinsic context of the culture and the people, and the times in which they play these curious games with rules, history, tradition and therefore, er, human meaning. No, really. Sometimes it’s one of the few way's out for people.

For my parents generation, there wasn't today's conspicuous and vast amounts of cash involved in sport. My parents tended to think along the lines of how not to spend money and not how to actually make a lot of it. Two very different mentalities. It's the wealth as a pizza view. Thus, they had little money.

When I was a kid, if you didn’t like sport, you were an outsider and a freak. I was naturally an outsider and a freak due to my utter cluelessness. And also that when growing up, most things were incredibly boring and useless as it turned out, especially sport.

“What a surprise! Even Sam Newman has learnt to express what the rest of the world has known for years. AFL is a boring & negative regional past-time! If it was a real sport it would be played internationally & more intelligent people would commentate on it. Ban Sam, ban AFL. Other than a few hundred thousand people, no-one in the world would care”. The Age forum comment.

A visiting Dutchman once said that “We Europeans love soccer, but it’s not real life. But for many Australians, only sport is real life. All else is shadow”.

And thus, like all neo-bohemian oddball kids, I was sports and social wise, in those very shadows for most of my childhood. I remember very well that when most adult males would first talk to you, they’d ask “And what team do you barrack for, little tacker?!”

Sadly, I had not developed the great social skill of bare faced lying and soon as I meekly answered I didn’t follow any team because, er, I was uninterested in er, football. Well, they’d invariably just turn around and walk away as if they’d just finished urinating on a wall. It’s hard for a kid to not think that such people are dumb peasants and er, I ain’t never gonna connect here no how, ever.

Rather self-fulfilling. It’s a little better today, I believe. Sadly, few adults ever said to me, "Hey, little tacker. What film directors do you like? Like African Safaris? You gotta read this book! I'll show ya how to make Italian and dance, and then it's easy to meet broads when you can shave etc".

“The ONLY guy in footy who says it like it is, and publicly voices a lot of opinions that a lot of other commentators would love to say if not in fear of losing a high paid job”. Comment by Shawnee on Yahoo.

What irks me is that between my parents uninterested narrow mindedness toward seeing any value in anything about any sport, and the kinda dominating working class thing of sport as a replacement for er, sometimes almost everything, well, the average sleepwalking and uncool kid that I was, tended to feel a little squeezed.

‘There was Sam Newman's message to kids: "I used to like to try and relax before games by being on my own", he wrote, "but many of the players like the company of their team-mates", It seems that Newman has preferred the sound of the back gate most of his life’. The Age.

Now I would have dug a little more choice of light and shade. Every boy needs some kind of ‘Field of Dreams’ mentor, even if you don’t end up doing any sport at all, opting instead for dismantling a 600CC Triumph motorcycle on a canvas in the lounge room, or setting up a full drum kit in the kitchen. Do not tell Ma and she’ll never know.

Boys need to be guided in actions with confident, mature males who can show them the hidden simplicity, value and surprisingly useful meaning found in the handy metaphor of many sporty pursuits and other things. Yep, there are other things. Some kind of epic moments in which through being part of something seemingly ordinary, you can be lifted up and out of yourself, and connected to all things by what are rituals as an experience. No, really.

It can be entirely good and normalising to do sport once you stop hitting each other. It can also be a big negative wave, man. Let's face it. It's filled with dangerous and unstable cretins one step from a lynch mob. But that's enough about AFL management.

“Always with the negative waves!” Donald Sutherland as Oddball, in the 1971 film ‘Kelly’s Heroes’.

“I think Sam should be free to say what he thinks. Problem is that, for Sam, thinking is a rare event. I have never liked the juvenile, "football lout" humor typified by Newman's style, and I doubt I ever will. Making fun of other people's shortcomings is one of the uglier aspects of being Australian. Sadly, Newman is not the only offender. As long as Triple M and other stations insist on employing loutish ex football players as broadcasters, I will continue to avoid them. I haven't used too many multisyllabic words here, have I? ”. The Age forum comment.

But sport means many positives like physical fitness, friendship, achievement and can lead to martial arts, travel and er, motorbikes. And you can’t ignore it, especially the flying beer cans. It’s there and part of life whether it helps you live in reality or avoid it. I just prefer to chose to enjoy something, and not be buried alive in it, as you often are in Australia.

Sport is mundane to mythic, like baseball in America, cricket in England or soccer in Italy. It’s funny, but when I never did any sport, I thought it sucked, but what the Hell did I know? Nuttin’. But once I actually got even a little involved, it became quite something else. I really liked the fre fruit. And with a son of my own, I can’t be a totally unhip non-sport Dad. I can’t, Mister! It can be a real limiting drag, like dating women and not being able to dance.

Sportland can be dumb as dust, maybe because it’s essentially about repeated action or spectatorship in a controlled environment, but that’s the appeal. It’s a tactical mistake to deny its place completely, just as it’s a strategic mistake to think it’s everything. Cutting out completely can tend to make one a little er, supercilious, like the smug non-drinker at a party, looking down on the Plebes and the gauche. And overloading on it is like being suffocated, but without the laughs.

“…Let's state the truth about Newman.

The Nine Footy Show's Newman is a moral and intellectual creep who has made a profession of holding ordinary Australians far less fortunate than himself up to public ridicule. He is a disgusting hypocrite who boasts of his adultery and who has turned his sexually abusive behaviour into a way of life. The fact that he has been assaulted for his infidelities and run over by a girlfriend is testimony enough to the sort of person he is.

Newman has little idea of right and wrong and less of how to behave in public”.
Gerald Charles Wilson dot com.

Sport’s a great connecter and leveller but then so are plenty of other things, and not just because of the mindless violence and as a great way to meet Bogans, the toothless and blonde Grid girls in incredibly small shorts. Sport is one of the few times that life is controllable, predictable and makes sense, mostly. Oddly, that doesn’t seem to apply to Gridiron though.

No wonder people want to spend relief time in Sportland. Action as they say, counts. Though to disagree with the cliché of it, not always as much as words do, eh? The two are not mutually exclusive, despite the best efforts of the sports commentarial and the er, disturbingly rote sportsman ‘interview’, a very close relative of the musician ‘interview’.

Sports Hack: “How do you think you’ll go in Saturday’s match, Felix?”

Felix Brick, Full Forward and Frontal Lobe: “Er, I reckon if we play better than the other team, we’re gonna win. If we don’t, I reckon we’ll lose”.

Music ‘journalist’: “Do you read music?”

Adrian Snibdn: “They have that now?”

“What a joke that in the same week that Derryn Hinch defames a legend after his death and has no case to answer that Sam Newman is stood down for commentating the way he sees the game. Is it going to get to the point where commentators are to be reduced to robotic clichéd calls the way that coaches and players are when they front the media.

MMM management say they are hopeful for Newman to go back on air provided he does away with his negative style. Whatever happened to commentators calling the game objectively, if Sam feels the game is going under then why can't he let the public now.

When the CEO of the AFL has come out publicly and admitted that certain areas of the game in being played in a negative manner I don't see why a commentator can't reflect this in his call.

The likes of Newman, Taylor and Brayshaw all call the game with a passion and I would hate to see this passion silenced by those more interested in the corporate dollar than in presenting the football loving public with a colourful and unbiased call”.
The Age forum comment.

Apart from the successful elite of sport, you can’t really live in Sportworld forever, anymore than you can live in anti-Sportland permanently. There will always be some kind of breach. But like one of Sam’s tutu wearing, pie explosion, fire extinguisher humiliations and embarrassment fiasco’s gone too far, or depending on your view, not far enough, it’s a great place to visit. I imagine Newman doesn't drag his TV persona such as it is one, home.

Through the peculiarities and compromises of training and team work, we can leave as ourselves. And through games and rituals we can perhaps, like Sam Newman in his focus and clarity, hit that damn hoop three times in a row. Because we not only want to and have to, but because we said we can and because we are. No, really.

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