Two Rights Make a Wrong

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Sometimes things can turn out wrong even when everyone’s intentions are good. Take the sacking of Jason Akermanis by the Western Bulldogs.

Aker is an individual. He values his reputation as an honest straight-shooter. He had a job in the media that required him to produce copy in the paper and fill air time with regular opinions. The Western Bulldogs allowed him to do so, simply because they saw no reason why he shouldn’t.

Not much of what Aker said in the media was all that bad. Problems arose, however, when it became apparent that he valued his reputation as an honest straight-shooter so much, it seemed he couldn’t guarantee the club—or anyone for that matter—that anything would stay confidential.

It was easy to see that his public utterances were putting his club on the defensive way too often. Who were they defending against? The gossip-hungry media. They are the ones who chose to go to the club and ask, “what do you think of what Aker said?” Knowing what the media would be like, should Aker have continued to say—in the media— what he believed was right?

Or would we prefer that he said what he thought was wrong?

Well, these are the only choices. Aker is what we call an individual, but no-one is an individual really. We encourage “individuality” and “self-expression” sometimes at the expense of maturity and wisdom, consideration and empathy. The fact is that, as we move through life, we create ripples. People are affected by our actions. Some are hurt by them, if they love us. Aker said what he thought was right, but it would also have been right to draw the line when he saw that his club—the saviour of his career and his primary employer—found itself in awkward positions because of his public remarks. Maybe he should have quit the media at that point, at least until he retired as a player.

Aker is a good man. And the Western Bulldogs are a good club—the very best in terms of culture, collective values, administration and the quality of the individuals they have recruited to important positions. Even their actions when they put out lifelines to exiles like Aker and Barry Hall were driven by good, intelligent, noble intentions. And they do respect individuality. But they have it in perspective.

The differences between Aker’s approach and that of his club were highlighted when he was finally sacked. Aker publicly demanded honesty and openness. His club—which values honesty and openness, but also confidentiality—bent over backwards in their effort not to disclose too much. After all, a good employer gives performance feedback in private, not in the public domain.

If the Bulldogs had revealed everything they knew about Aker, or complained about him to justify their decision, they’d have been deemed “unprofessional” in the media. Instead, they were criticised by sections of the media for the ruthless, secretive manner in which they finished a great career. It makes us wonder who the real villain is.

The fact is that we, the public, don’t know the entire story. If the Bulldogs gave Aker plenty of feedback along the way; if they’d reiterated the club’s philosophy with him; if they gave him warning, then they have done nothing wrong.

If Aker divulged to the club everything he was going to say in the media and in his forthcoming book; if he kept no secrets from them—especially if his disclosures involved colleagues—then he should have a clear conscience.

We can only evaluate actions by the intentions that drive them. Until we know more, we can only assume that the Western Bulldogs and Aker had good intentions, but that their intentions clashed. Both were right, but their “rights” collided. Along the way, it seemed Aker had more power to change that than his club did. It seems to me that the club acted according to the Biblical injunction and didn’t “regard him as an enemy, but warn(ed) him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:15, New International Version). Aker took no heed, because he, too, thought he was right.

The Bulldogs did their best to secure the loose cannon but it remained loose, and it became obvious that the right thing to do, at a significant stage of a significant season, was to toss it overboard.

It turned out to be yet another right with the look of a wrong.

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