Players are booed when they change clubs. Some are booed because they are good, some because they know it, too; Wayne Carey was one. This sort of booing is selective, but hardly discerning. Some are booed because earlier villainy, real or perceived, on the day or previously. This booing is primal, but ephemeral. It rarely lasts. Once vented, it is spent. Andrew Gaff this season is the latest example.
Ricky Ponting was booed in England because he was good, and captain, and booed more when crowds saw that it was having an effect. Stuart Broad was booed here, seemingly without bothering him. Sometimes a disgusted crowd boos its own, though in Australian rules it is rare. Sometimes a crowd boos because it has been asked by officialdom to desist, a sure-fire trigger.
Some booing is pantomime. The booing of an ex-player is. It doesn’t especially matter whether he deserted or was decommissioned; no-one claims booing is fair. Mostly, the booing of umpires is pure panto. See venting, above. But Essendon fans one day booed an umpire who had been accidentally knocked out. See mindless, above.
The further from the field the roots of booing, the murkier. Adam Goodes was booed because … who really knows? But racism played at least a part. Jobe Watson was booed supposedly because he was a cheat, an unsustainable leap. Heretier Lumumba was booed when reappearing after taking a short mental health break, and for no other apparent reason. Astonishingly, that was only five years ago. This is booing’s dark side. For all three, the light went out of the game; none lasted another complete season. Surely no-one wishes this on Ablett.
You suspect and hope, but cannot know, that the booing of Ablett is one and done. If it was because everyone was doing it, they will tire of that game. If it was because he is still good, booing will only spur him; that much was clear on Monday. Stopping would be both a courtesy and a strategy.
If it is because of his social media stance in support of Israel Folau, we should be looking at ourselves, not him. Firstly, he quickly withdrew. Secondly, Ablett is a fine footballer and otherwise an everyman. He is a role model only to the extent of the role he can and does model so brilliantly. Bowing to his football does not mean bending to his world-view, and it is up to us to make sure our peers and kids understand the distinction.
It makes no more sense to take our moral and philosophical cues from Ablett than it does to turn to the pope for footy insights, and then boo him for his fundamentalist grasp of 6-6-6.
Gary Ablett is very, very good, but he is not infallible.