OPINION: Ground-breaking Forum approaches eighth anniversary
12 May 2016
Visited by legions, revered by some and maligned by many others, Aussie Baseball Forum will turn eight years of age towards the end of June.
While the Forum has unwittingly developed a Victorian-centric focus, it has clocked up a staggering nine million visits over the years as it has provided the voice for a passionate membership that remains - on paper - at around 1800 people scattered nationally and abroad.
With the passing of time and the burgeoning popularity of other forms of social media, the Forum appears to be on the wane. Welcome news for some, no doubt, though others may certainly “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
Aussie Baseball Forum was a by-product of the informative, popular and long-running Victorian Baseball Radio Show that was the brainchild of journalist James Watson and presenter Craig Frita Kernick – the latter a former Australian Baseball League player who has moved on to greener pastures these days with the SEN Baseball Show.
Then Victorian website guru Gary O’Brien approached me to ask if I would like to be involved as a joint moderator for the Forum, which sought to provide a voice for members of the baseball community who were keen to talk about anything related to their beloved sport.
I had been out of summer baseball for a few years and had at the time taken up a media and website role with Baseball Victoria. Involvement with the Forum was a no-brainer, in that it provided me with the opportunity to renew or develop contacts that would enable me to gain a better handle on happenings in the sport and concerns about its development.
Gary and I decided that we would allow people to join the Forum - and to comment - without identifying themselves publicly. While there were (and are) processes in place to help ensure that we knew with whom we were dealing, we extended the right to online anonymity in the belief that it would encourage more people to become involved in expressing views that might not otherwise be aired.
We understood that there would be, on occasions, a fine line that needed to be tracked between opinion, assertion, mischief and what was ethically and legally acceptable. Neither of us had any desire to be sued or in any other way held accountable for perceived damage to the reputation or the standing of any person or any organisation.
Hence we framed a set of Forum rules that have been generally understood and observed.
Aside from assistance that the Forum accorded me in my work with Baseball Victoria, the service also created other unique opportunities.
We – and our members - became aware very early on of the existence of an online presence established by a convicted child sex offender who was utilising the technology to contact impressionable and vulnerable young people in the sport. His activities were known but were not publicly acknowledged by officials and paid employees of Australian baseball.
One of the single most important things that the Aussie Baseball Forum achieved was to keep tabs on this person – and his associates – and to ultimately put him out of action or at least minimise his presence. While the Forum appeared to have been successful in helping achieve its ends in this particular case, there is an ongoing need for vigilance in the protection of our young people online (and elsewhere, of course) – something that is now recognised and mandated by sports governing bodies.
Over its lifetime, Aussie Baseball Forum has dealt with, discussed and pontificated upon just about every issue related to our version of the sport. The Forum has drawn upon the views of a cross-section of baseball interests from grassroots players through to personnel at the highest playing, coaching and management levels. Some have cared to publicly identify themselves. Plenty have not. The overwhelmingly majority of comments have been posted in their entirety. Some have not been.
While we have allowed as much leeway as we have ethically and legally been able, we have still managed to ban close to 200 posters from the Forum – in a very small number of cases because of the potentially slanderous or damaging nature of the posts, but overwhelmingly because of entries that have been generated by unsolicited spammers.
Every baseball person who has accessed the service has a judgment to make on Aussie Baseball Forum – whether they are visitors, members or not. Even those who say that never visit the Forum seem to have a view on its worth and its culpability in the scheme of things.
Baseball governing bodies have resented, or have at least been suspicious of the Forum - and in instances of which we are aware have even instructed their employees not to become engaged in visiting or as becoming members of the dreaded Forum.
That says something about Forum critics, about their insecurities and their refusal in some cases to come to terms with what has often been legitimate criticism. Not so about the overwhelmingly good and decent baseball people who have supported us over the years and have come along for the ride – so often in the spirit of fun and of constructive piss-taking in our characteristically Aussie style.
In my mind it is unfortunate that baseball governing bodies did not choose to embrace the Aussie Baseball Forum from early on, and to use it as a vehicle for positive and constructive advancement of the sport. After its own failed attempt to run a properly moderated online forum several years ago, Baseball Australia may have had justifiable concerns, but still should have spoken to us about how our modest service could be used to help out in any way that we were able.
I have no doubt, after all of these years - after all of the millions of visits and the gazillions of words written about issues pertaining to our sport - that the Aussie Baseball Forum has done far more good than harm. Sure, there have been comments made – often - that might be uninformed, self-interested, thoughtless and downright stupid, but there has also been a wealth of insightful, educated, enlightened, inspiring and constructive comment that has been made.
We thank our contributors for that. For caring enough about the game to keep coming back, for engaging in discussions and for keeping others informed about where they, their clubs and their associations are at. And for having a bit of fun along the way.
Over the past few days, Goblin has been playing around with the Aussie Baseball Forum website, to highlight some of the memorable discussions from yesteryear and to remind current and former members of where we were at and what we were saying way back then. Although we have filed much of our interstate discussion (which is of course still available), our predominantly Victorian membership still has access to the many hundreds of threads created over the past eight years.
So many of the issues that were debated years ago have currency today. Probably even more so.
We commend you to taking a trip down memory lane in revisiting some of those discussions.
All things change in life. We move on. Even more so in the area of social media, where the likes of Facebook and Twitter are now more broadly embraced and readily accessible options for those seeking immediate online publication of material, comment and insights.
The Aussie Baseball Forum may well be voluntarily closed down to coincide with its eighth anniversary during June. It is an option that we have considered for some time now, although the finality of such a decision will depend largely on the response of our members and of those who have supported the project over the years.
While our critics – including governing bodies and officialdom who are even now strangely defensive - will no doubt be delighted by the prospect of the Forum closing shop, they really should view this past eight years as a squandered opportunity. An opportunity to have engaged more constructively with committed baseball people – baseball lifers – in a fundamentally controlled, moderated and accountable online forum that tapped into the views of many outstanding people in the sport.
“Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer” is a maxim that is well recommended to all of those nervous, insecure and fragile souls who shy away from scrutiny and from truth in work, in sport and in life. While this comment is not directed at any particular organisation, or any particular persons, it seems to me a great shame that Australian baseball continues to be a largely fragmented sport that struggles to find a commonality of purpose between its disparate stakeholders across the nation.
Whatever happens and whatever we choose to do, the Aussie Baseball Forum has been an integral part of the national baseball landscape over the past several years – especially in Victoria. It has been a humble, though worthwhile project, the like of which – in some form or another – will hopefully be re-created and built upon by someone (or someones) in the not too distant future.
The grassroots baseball community - our paid up membership - deserves a voice. It should have that voice. It owns the sport.
LINK: AUSSIE BASEBALL FORUM