Pickett has four children aged nine and under and his partner Jess is a full-time mother, meaning he is the sole breadwinner in his family. He struggled to scrounge an airfare to get back home to Perth for several weeks during the lay-off.
The Pickett situation differs from that of most players, because of his late debut at age 27, low payments as a rookie, and large number of dependents.
He rents a home in Melbourne’s inner north, where for a period of time, in addition to his partner and four kids, there were three other people living with him.
Richmond have been trying to source money for him, as has his manager Anthony van der Wielen, who has had meetings with the AFL and pointed out that the AFL reaped promotional benefits from Pickett’s extraordinary story following the grand final, but that he had been placed in a financially challenging position due to the across-the-board pay cuts of 50 per cent that impact far more heavily on lowly paid players with dependents.
Knowing the impact of across-the-board pay cuts on his client, van der Wielen lobbied the AFL and AFLPA to have a higher minimum for the lowest-paid players – for a player in Pickett’s position to be guaranteed, say, a base of $70,000 and not to have the 50 per cent pay cut.
Under the pay cut deal, the players will get about 70 per cent of their contracted amount, since the 50 per cent pay cut is for seven out of 12 months.
Richmond’s attempts to source money for Pickett have run into difficulties because they have to be independent of the club to avoid being counted in the club’s salary cap, a source of frustration for the Tigers.
Pickett has applied for money from the AFLPA’s hardship fund, which has $500,000 available for current players experiencing difficulties, but typically hands out only four figure sums – which is what Pickett will likely receive from that fund.
A player in Pickett’s position would rely greatly on match payments to increase his pay, but the loss of games during the shutdown hurts him on that score.
Pickett’s situation is known to the AFL hierarchy, including chief executive Gillon McLachlan, who struck a pay deal with the Players’ Association that saw players’ pay cut by 50 per cent for the remainder of 2020, though the players had already been paid for the first five months of this year when the deal was struck.
Pickett was the central story of the AFL season launch back in March, and his story of redemption has been celebrated on Australian Story by the ABC.
Drafted by the Tigers in the mid-season draft of last year, he did not make his debut until the 2019 grand final, when the Tigers thrashed Greater Western Sydney and Pickett’s debut was the biggest talking point of the match, as he received votes for the Norm Smith Medal.
Pickett does not yet have a contract for 2021, though the Tigers wanted to sign him, as he and his management wanted him to play some games and get a measure of his worth before committing, in the hope that he would perform well.
Pickett spent time in juvenile detention as a teenager in Western Australia and was subsequently jailed for 18 months for several non-violent offences, including burglary.
He debuted for South Fremantle in 2013 following his release from the Wooroloo Prison Farm and while he settled down and became of the WAFL’s best players, he was passed over in each draft and did not get drafted until the mid-season draft of 2019, when Richmond selected the then 27-year-old.
He was the first player to debut in a grand final in 57 years, replacing the injured Jack Graham in the Richmond line-up, as he gathered 22 disposals and booted a goal.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.