What the Garry Lyon, Billy Brownless fallout reveals about footy's attitude to women

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'Shocking decisions' in Lyon, Brownless bust-up

Friends and colleagues of Garry Lyon and Billy Brownless try to make sense of the tangled relationships that appear to have ended their long friendship. (Vision courtesy Seven News Melbourne)

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If you've ever doubted the grip that football mania and its associated bro codes have on the Australian landscape, you need only look so far as the coverage of the fallout between former players Billy Brownless and Garry Lyon to see how far down the rabbit hole we've fallen.

As far as I can gather, the bust-up between the best friends occurred because Brownless discovered a relationship between Lyon and Brownless' ex-wife Nicky. Lyon had been separated from his wife Melissa. Understandably, the feelings of all parties have been hurt. The foursome had been known to be close, and such a rift is perhaps irreparable. You'd have to be heartless to not sympathise with the emotional upset here.

What's infuriating though is the reaction from the football world, which seems intent on reinforcing regressive, outdated ideas about mateship, 'off-limits' women and the folly of cutting another bloke's lunch.

AFL greats Garry Lyon and Billy Brownless in happier times.

AFL greats Garry Lyon and Billy Brownless in happier times. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

Amidst the story, Lyon's management has revealed he's been battling depression and will stand down from his media duties for the foreseeable future. Lyon is the co-host of Channel Nine's The Footy Show and Footy Classified, as well as being a Triple M commentator and a columnist for The Age.


But where revelations of mental unrest would normally result in public sympathy, the conflation of Lyon's condition with his apparent crime of 'stealing another bloke's (ex) wife' has resulted in some fans casting doubt on his condition. One fan on Reddit wrote, "It's just not the done thing in my opinion. I imagine it puts Lyon on the outer with all his media and footy mates. It would be hard to front up to friends and colleagues in a TV studio, at a radio desk or in a commentary box after this. A constant elephant in the room. I doubt the Footy Show would want to risk boos from the audience as Lyon walked out to open the show. Feel for Billy on this one."

Another offered the more brusque, "c--- act. Regardless of marital status, your lifelong best mate and any wives/daughters are off-limits."

Never forget that when Sam Newman wheels in the mannequin likeness of a female colleague in an attempt to humiliate her, it's larrikinism and jokes and the audience will be beside themselves with laughter. But steal another man's wife? That's a "c--- act" and you should expect to be booed for it.

It's this paternalistic attitude to relationships that seems particularly gross in this critique. Very few people would feel comfortable with their friends becoming romantically involved with their exes, but people are also not property. Nicky Brownless doesn't belong to her ex-husband and she's as entitled as anybody else to make informed decisions about her relationships, particularly when those decisions are directly connected to her own happiness. Whatever hurt is being felt by the parties involved here, it's nobody else's business and it's certainly not for anyone else to judge.

But more telling is the dissection here between women who are "off-limits" and those who are fair game. Last year, Brownless was criticised for calling a mother and daughter 'strippers' at a junior football event, but those women didn't belong to anyone important so I guess it doesn't matter.

And it shouldn't escape anyone's attention that members of the community levelling blame and disgust at Lyon for embarking on a consensual relationship with another adult are the same people who routinely defend footballers from allegations of sexual assault against the non-consenting 'strays' and 'footy sluts' who lack the brand of ownership that comes from being publicly claimed by a footballer.

When Stephen Milne was finally called before a court of law to answer to charges of rape, fans across Australia vehemently declared his innocence while opining about the nature of women and liars and sexual regret. His team - the same team that 'proudly' works with White Ribbon Australia to supposedly prevent violence against women - even ran a fundraising drive to help pay for his legal fees. In the end the rape charges against Milne were dropped, he pleaded guilty to one charge of indecent assault, and no conviction was recorded.

You don't need to look very far in the AFL to find similar examples of fans, players and commentators rallying behind men embroiled in rape allegations (almost all of which are dismissed salaciously as 'sex scandals').

Cut another man's lunch though, and it's to the doghouse for you. It doesn't matter that Brownless himself has admitted that he could have been a better husband, and that he allowed his role in the media to make him selfish and self-absorbed. Whatever reasons his ex-wife had for leaving him, according to this narrative, she's still 'his'.

And it's interesting how sidelined Nicky Brownless and Melissa Lyon have been in all this. If mentioned at all, any distress felt by the latter has been dealt with as an afterthought to the real tragedy here of Lyon betraying his best mate. Nicky's consent or wishes haven't been considered at all, because they're irrelevant to the overriding narrative of Bros Before Hoes and the violation of the time honoured code of masculinity and mateship.

This is the story the media is focusing on, and it's a subtle demonstration of how influential the narrative of masculinity is on the news cycle as a whole. Before you roll your eyes at that, ask yourself if this story would be taken as seriously if it were about two sportswomen and their extracurricular relationships.

Over the next few days, we can expect to hear more about the autopsy of Brownless and Lyon's dead friendship. No doubt a lot of it will focus on the so-called 'dog move' of stealing another man's woman, despite that fact that a human being can never be someone else's to steal in the first place, and no one can possibly know the dynamics of anyone else's relationships.

Brownless will be the victim betrayed by his best friend, and all we'll learn once again is that the world of football belongs to men and women are just the trophies they've won along the way.