The story that didn’t need a villain

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Opinion by Troy Dodds

I want to start this column by saying that I have the utmost respect for Alex McKinnon and his partner Teigan Power, who are an absolute inspiration and a wonderful example of strength during adversity.

The bond between Alex and Teigan, the mateship of Korbin Sims and the generosity of the entire rugby league community make McKinnon’s story one that deserves to be told to a wider audience than just NRL followers, which was the case via ‘60 Minutes’ last Sunday night.

If there was ever a story that didn’t need a villain, it’s this one.

I expected to watch ‘60 Minutes’ last weekend needing a tissue or two nearby – I know the McKinnon story well, but this was going to be particularly emotional.

Instead I watched the program feeling incredibly frustrated and uncomfortable as the agenda of ‘60 Minutes’ became clear – they needed somebody to blame and Melbourne, Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith was in the firing line.

Alex McKinnon and his family have a problem with the way Smith spoke to referees on the field after Alex was taken off on a stretcher after lying motionless on the ground for nearly 10 minutes.

They have an even bigger problem, it would seem, with the fact that he has apparently never contacted the McKinnon family to apologise.

Let’s address the Smith issue first, and then ‘60 Minutes’ itself.

Firstly, context must be given to the situation.

Smith had no idea what the extent of McKinnon’s injury was. He has been around footy long enough to know that in the vast majority of cases, a player being stretchered off does not result in the circumstances Alex now finds himself in.

Smith spoke to the referee in reference to the penalty given against his side compared to earlier incidents in the same game, and pleaded for consistency.

The implication on ‘60 Minutes’ was that Smith argued with the referee about the penalty for a long period of time.

“As Alex lay paralysed and even eight minutes later when he is carried off the ground, Smith continues to argue that Alex caused his own injury,” says reporter Liz Hayes.

That is not the case.

Smith spoke to the referee briefly, then remained silent for the next eight minutes before speaking to the referee again after Alex was lifted from the ground.

With the benefit of hindsight, Smith probably regrets the comments about Alex contributing to his injury, but at the time the discussion with the referee was no different to what happens week in, week out with all NRL captains.

Alex and his family clearly have significant anger towards Smith, even labelling his comments and actions as “unforgivable”.

Nobody has the right to tell them who to be angry at and I can’t be critical of their thoughts and comments.

However, some damning comments were made about Smith and you would think that Smith has every right to defend himself.

It’s journalism 101.

Not according to ‘60 Minutes’, who confirmed they didn’t offer Smith the right of reply.

“60 Minutes chose not to contact Cameron Smith before our story went to air, because this was Alex’s story, told by Alex and his family and friends,” said Executive Producer, Tom Malone.

I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit.

It’s irresponsible and lacking of journalistic integrity.

Yes, it was Alex’s story, but Alex and ‘60 Minutes’ brought Cameron Smith well and truly into the story, and given the nature of the comments, he deserved a right to have his say.

Perhaps if he had that chance, he would have spoken about how he fronted media and publicity opportunities for the ‘Rise for Alex’ round, or how he wore Alex’s number in that same round.

Perhaps he would have spoken about how Melbourne Storm fans contributed some $20,000 to the ‘Rise for Alex’ campaign during that special round last year.

I guess we’ll never know.

Even if ’60 Minutes’ didn’t feel it appropriate to ask Smith for comment (which I strongly believe they should have), the Storm issued a media statement several hours before the program aired last Sunday night. It was clear from that statement that there was more to this story.

’60 Minutes’ had time to plug the book soon to be released about Alex’s amazing story, but couldn’t find the time to mention that statement and perhaps put it on their website.

At the time of writing this column, Melbourne’s statement still isn’t on the website. A link to pre-order Alex’s book is, however.

Apparently Smith is planning to avoid Channel Nine when it comes to his media commitments in the future.

He has every right to do so.

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