Caroline Wilson slams ‘shocking pile-on’ as attacks turn personal

Days of backlash haven’t swayed Caroline Wilson as the AFL journalist hit back at critics after she caused controversy with her comments about St Kilda players earlier this week.

Wilson said fans and sponsors had reason to be upset with Seb Ross and Tim Membrey after they missed a nailbiting six-point loss to Adelaide on the weekend for family reasons. The pair returned home after a loss to Sydney two weekends ago — Ross to be with his partner who has recently given birth to twins, and Membrey to be with his partner who is expecting.

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Wilson questioned the decision of the Saints stars to leave when their team’s season hangs in the balance, and said some senior St Kilda figures were disappointed the pair had missed the Crows game, having asked them to stay on.

The comments sparked a firestorm in the footy world. Melbourne legend Garry Lyon said he was “speechless” Wilson would criticise the players for putting family above football, while Richmond star Jack Riewoldt said Wilson’s take was “idiotic”.

AFLPA boss Paul Marsh hit out, as did fellow footy journalist Damian Barrett. But Wilson defended herself yet again and said some of the attacks on her have been “personal”, while labelling some of her critics “hypocrites”.

“It was a legitimate story and yes, I did have an opinion that St Kilda fans had a right to be disappointed. I’m standing by that opinion,” Wilson told Footy Classified. “People can say they’re staggered and shocked — I think the pile-on has been pretty shocking to be honest and some of it has been personal.

“A lot of people have said how dare I speak on behalf of the family. I have enormous sympathy for any young mother, I know about that better than anyone because I’m the one person here (on the panel) who has been a young mother with young children.

“But I wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t spoken to people at the club and I don’t think those St Kilda teammates who asked Seb to stay did so without knowing his situation, I’d just leave it at that.”

Wilson’s latest comments — the second time she has spoken publicly to defend herself after earlier doing so on a podcast — come after Ross released a statement addressing the furore he’s been caught up in.

Seb and Marnie Ross, with daughter Charlotte and twin sons Vinny and HenleySource:Supplied

“On behalf of myself and my family, I wanted to address some of the commentary around my decision to head home following the Sydney game,” Ross wrote. “This was never meant to be about me, and the last few days have not only been tough on my family, but also an unnecessary distraction for the footy club I love.

“When we were told we would be staying in Sydney longer than originally planned, I made the decision to go home and support my wife and our three young children with the intention — and hope — that I could apply for a border exemption and return in time to face Adelaide. When the team was eventually granted a fly-in, fly-out exemption to Queensland the Thursday before the game, my chances of joining them faded. But I always knew that was the risk.

“Although I was torn between my club obligations and my family obligations, it was a risk I was willing to take. I knew I needed to be at home to help my wife Marnie with our five-week-old twin boys Vinny and Henley and daughter Charlotte.

“This was never to be about me not honouring my commitment to the St Kilda Football Club — the club that I’m committed to and am proud to represent. This was simply me supporting what I cherish most, my family.

“Thank you to Ratts (coach Brett Ratten) and the club for allowing me to explore every option with respect to playing or leaving and then supporting me when my decision was made.

“I also want to take this opportunity to thank our truly loyal St Kilda fans and supporters and those within the wider AFL community for your heartfelt support over the last few days.”

Tim Membrey has played more than 100 games for the Saints. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

On Wednesday St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis addressed Wilson’s original comments, which included the suggestion some senior figures at the Saints were uneasy with Membrey and Ross missing the Crows game.

Finnis told Gerard Whateley on SEN Radio “there are no misgivings” about the pair’s decision, but added: “What I will say is that like any organisation that’s in a highly competitive industry, we debate these decisions. But ultimately, once decisions are made, we get behind the players and we give them our support and we get on with our business.”

Asked if senior leaders asked Membrey and Ross to stay with the team, Finnis said: “What we did was to check if there’s anything more that the club could do to help the guys feel support.

“I think our players know, and we’ve got a pretty consistent record of this as a footy club, is that we’ll always put family first and they’ll be supported with those decisions.”

Finnis also denied there was a “significant level of disappointment in Seb Ross at the club”.

“You can be disappointed, but you can be understanding. I don’t think emotions are mutually exclusive,” Finnis said. “As a CEO, I’d love to have our best players on the park, but I do that every week.

“But as a father, I also understand that we’ve got to prioritise what we know is important with our families. No one can know that except for the family themselves.

“I just feel like sometimes we can have a lack of empathy about that in the way in which these things are discussed.”

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