Disgraceful, disgusting and deserving of the sack: Tom Morris on his very public downfall

Tom Morris’ downfall was as swift and brutal as the impact his words had on Fox Cricket commentator Megan Barnard. It is one year since a blokey WhatsApp conversation was leaked which saw Morris casually and shamefully degrade Barnard’s sexuality.

Morris now seems ready to publicly hold a mirror to the self-described arrogant, white, heterosexual male who made those comments. It is not a pretty picture.

Tom Morris speaks on the Don’t Shoot the Messenger podcast.

One minute Morris was standing tall on that rare — for a sports journalist — pedestal of high moral ground after a heated 2022 season-opening exchange with Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.

The next, it seemed Morris and his short but impressive career were finished. Beveridge was forced by Bulldogs bosses to apologise to Morris, but that was lost in the ether. Not so Morris’ social media antics which exposed some of his worst traits — traits of which he says he had been completely unaware and which showed no regard for a woman who considered him a colleague and at the very least a good acquaintance.

Looking back over those dark days, Morris says he spent them in a state of shock. His only request to the Fox Sports human resources team the day his comments were leaked was for a quick decision. Barely 24 hours later, he was sacked.

Reflecting on what took place, Morris admits now that the comments about Barnard — whose sexuality until then had remained relatively private — were not isolated incidents but part of a wider pattern of behaviour symptomatic of the “warped world” in which he was living. He described his behaviour as “disgusting and disgraceful”.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his sacking, Morris, 31, says he will never forgive himself for the damage he inflicted on his former colleague. He described himself back then as selfish, and agreed with the assessments that he was both arrogant and entitled. He “probably agrees” that he was showing off to his mates in revealing something private about a well-known sports commentator.

“It’s not something I’ll be able to live down,” he said. “I’m deeply ashamed of what happened.”

Morris spoke at length this week to the podcast I co-host with Corrie Perkin, Don’t Shoot The Messenger. It was a lengthy and frank conversation in which Morris took full responsibility, blaming nothing but his own ignorance, arrogance and selfishness for his public disgrace. The interview punctuates his cautious return into the media at SEN where he will co-host the Sunday edition of the pre-game program, Sunday Crunchtime, with former Fox Footy colleague and close friend Sarah Olle.

The widely held view that everyone deserves a second chance is not one on which Morris is banking. “I can’t be clear enough” he told the podcast. “I deserved to be sacked.”

He says he disagrees with those who believe he was the victim of political correctness and has prepared himself mentally for the reality that he may never work full-time in sport or the media again. In fact, he regards the prospect as highly unlikely.

Not everyone in the AFL community is thrilled to see Morris returning albeit to a small once-a-week role. But many of the key figures involved at the time remain watchfully supportive. They range from AFL chief Gillon McLachlan — who agreed with the swift Fox decision 12 months ago — to senior commentator Kelli Underwood who was amazed, but gratified, that her employer took the tough stand it did and who wrote a strong piece at the time about the impact Morris’ comments had on Barnard.

Both believe Morris deserves another chance, as does Steve Crawley, the Fox Sports executive director who oversaw his removal and remains proud of the stable of women he has introduced and is still building to the one-time Fox Footy AFL boys’ club.

“Everyone deserves a second chance, and I’m supportive of that for Tom,” said Crawley. “But I doubt it will come at Fox. And he won’t get a third chance.”

The AFLW’s inaugural premiership coach, Bec Godard, now the senior coach at Hawthorn’s fledgling team, also endorsed Morris’ second chance but added that she doubted a woman in the same position would have been given the same opportunity.

In his time away, Morris travelled overseas and disappeared from public view for 12 months seeking refuge with his partner, close friends, his shattered family and the St Kilda Cricket Club. He says he has dug deeply into the way he lived before and remains distressed at his attitudes, some behaviour and the opportunities he squandered “to adequately educate myself to become a respectful normal adult”.

“I thought I was one of the good guys … men who are heterosexual and white like me often think we are the good guys and, in fact, we don’t know what we don’t know. I turned a blind eye … I was selfish, and I ignored it for a decade,” he said.

Fox Sports Megan Barnard (second from the right) with Fox Cricket colleagues. Credit:Instagram

Morris has attempted to contact Barnard but received no response. “She doesn’t owe me anything,” he said. “It’s not up to her to make me feel right. I’m always going to feel guilty and shameful for what I put her through.”

He still feels uncomfortable discussing his former colleague for fear of indirectly confronting her with what took place last March. Barnard was contacted for comment by The Age.

Acutely aware that it will be behaviour and not words which will ultimately determine the wisdom of SEN’s decision to employ him, Morris shuns the term rehabilitation, preferring “ongoing education”. Over the past year, he has worked with Tanya Hosch, the AFL executive overseeing inclusion and social policy; Patty Kinnersly, the CEO of Our Watch; and Todd Fernando, the Victorian Commissioner for LGBTQI+ communities; and others who do not want to be named. One of many great regrets is that he stood up an opportunity offered by a gay friend to engage in an educational session in 2020 because he chose instead to focus on chasing a story.

Compounding Morris’ shame was the effect his comments and subsequent downfall had on his family. Father Tim is a schoolteacher who had to confront his son’s behaviour for days and weeks and months afterwards at Morris’ old school, Melbourne Grammar, and his two sisters who are both primary school teachers.

The extra time on his hands has meant he has been able to devote significant time to his mother, Gilly, who was seriously ill at the time and is still suffering from complications from cancer. Being repeatedly abused in the street was one thing Morris accepted he had to endure but watching his family’s devastation was another matter entirely.

Morris arrived for his scheduled interview with Don’t Shoot The Messenger prepared but anxious. He had been scheduled to break his silence in January with JOY FM, but that radio station cancelled the interview shortly beforehand. He would not use the term redemption, but it will be interesting to witness if the award-winning journalist can return to the role he once held as one of Australian rules football’s top news breakers.

Morris says he does not know who leaked his WhatsApp comments and has no interest in finding out. Nor is he interested in drawing any link between the timing of his battle with coach Beveridge and the leaks which led to his sacking. That the WhatsApp conversations existed in the first place was the one and only reason for his downfall. “The Western Bulldogs were not responsible [for the leaks],” he said. “… It would never have come out if I had not had those thoughts in my head.

“If the public sentiment is that I can never get a full-time job again then I’m completely prepared for that mentally because I’ve only got myself to blame …This is no one else’s fault, I’m not bitter at anyone … so many people were so hurt by what I did.”

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