Footage of the stomping incident, however, appears to show McKernan accidentally tread on Stratton’s foot, which Stratton could argue was a provocation before he stomped on the Essendon forward’s foot. The stomping charge is automatically sent to the tribunal and will be heard separately, with the Hawk skipper expected to receive penalties for both charges.
Stratton has shown considerable remorse for his actions and is believed to have spoken to his own player leadership group about the incidents, although had not yet spoken directly to Fantasia or McKernan – who was not hurt – since the game ended.
Stratton is understood to have privately admitted to have pinched in the past. Fantasia had several visible bruises on his arm, the image of which played a role in the AFL’s decision to charge Stratton with serious misconduct.
It is completely open to the tribunal to either suspend Stratton – the outcome the AFL will seek – or to fine him, which was the outcome for Docker Ryan Crowley when he was found to have pinched North Melbourne great and games record holder Brent Harvey in 2013.
AFL football boss Steve Hocking has a say in the assessment of the incidents, along with match review officer Michael Christian, and the AFL recognises that the optics of the incidents are poor for the game, a reality underscored, too, by the comments of Hawthorn chief executive Justin Reeves, who condemned the actions and said they were not what the club stood for.
While Stratton has been accused of also pinching Brisbane’s Charlie Cameron in round 11, Christian said there was “no clear evident presented of pinching” in that game. The Lions were incensed that Cameron did not receive any free kicks for the incidents in question – a position that the Bombers shared since Friday night.
Essendon players repeatedly raised the treatment of Fantasia by Stratton with umpires, however, the small forward did not receive a free kick.
There is a 2019 precedent for a player being charged with serious misconduct and escaping suspension, with Carlton veteran Dale Thomas fined for calling an umpire a cheat back in round nine.
Christian said the AFL considered charging Stratton with multiple counts of a lower level misconduct, but ultimately opted to aggregate the counts under a more serious charge.
“Under the guidelines, pinching is a fixed financial sanction, and after much consideration, given the number and multiple times we had evidence of pinching, it was decided the most appropriate action was to charge Ben under serious misconduct provisions which means a direct referral to the tribunal,” he said.
“We certainly considered charging on multiple fixed financial fines for the evidence that was before us, but in the end thought the most appropriate charge was serious misconduct.”
Meanwhile, North Melbourne spearhead Ben Brown was cleared of any consequence for his high hit on GWS defender Matt Buntine.
Several other players received fines: Carlton’s Dale Thomas (striking Bulldog Josh Dunkley), Fremantle’s David Mundy (misconduct for pushing Port Adelaide’s Robbie Gray into the path of an umpire), and Kangaroos pair Kayne Turner (striking Giant Jeremy Cameron) and Luke Davies-Uniacke (making careless contact with an umpire).
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter