I DON’T know about you, but whenever I finish a hard day’s work I like to unwind with a few cold ones and some casual humiliation of a little person hired to entertain me.

It’s only natural, right? I’ve busted a gut all day at my desk job, I deserve to relax and have fun. And if a dwarf happens to be around just, you know, being a dwarf, why not set fire to his shirt? It’s all just a joke. If people get offended or upset or whatever – well, that’s just life.

OK, so the idea of an office worker winding down in their time off by setting fire to someone sounds more than a little deranged.

And yet if you replace “hard day’s work” with “running around a footy oval” and “desk job” with “hideously overpaid and overhyped sporting job”, you might come close to the bumbling, idiotic thoughts that must have been running through St Kilda footy player Clinton Jones’ head on Monday

Headlines don’t get much more ridiculous than “Dwarf set on fire by footballer” but that’s exactly what we all woke up to on Tuesday, after Jones pulled his stunt as part of our country’s notorious annual footy-themed festival of idiocy known as Mad Monday.

It’s only seen as “ridiculous” because the victim in the situation, entertainer Blake Johnston, happens to be a dwarf, and the perpetrator happens to be a famous footballer.

Call me crazy, but I imagine a headline like “Elderly man set on fire by teenager” might be viewed with slightly more outrage than this one, which even sent AFL chief Andrew Demetriou into fits of laughter on national TV.

Demetriou later apologised, saying he didn’t realise it was a true story, but I’d wager he wasn’t the only one to read the story of the attack on Johnston and start cracking jokes.

It’s a common response to footy players’ bad behaviour, of which slamming back a few coldies and setting fire to a dwarf is hardly the worst example from over the years.

In 2004 another St Kilda player, Fraser Gehrig, famously urinated on a woman’s leg at a pub. Then there was former Carlton player Brendan Fevola, who was caught relieving himself on a shopfront after a drinking session.

A serial offender, in 2008 Fev paraded around Melbourne in a nightie with a sex toy sticking out of his trousers, a performance he was clearly proud of as he almost repeated it the following year when he went on a pub crawl swinging a giant phallus around his head.

Then there was the time Central Coast player Andre Gumprecht dressed up as Hitler to go partying, and in 2010, NRL player Joel Monaghan was photographed “engaging in lewd sex acts” with a dog.

And let’s not forget the countless drunken fights, bustups and assault cases. Whether it’s waving a sex toy on the streets of Melbourne or a bloody punch-up, footy players’ outrageous acts are usually treated as nothing more than “indiscretions”.

Sure they make headlines for a few days, and everyone looks po-faced for a bit and apologises, and then we all move on. And then it happens the next season and the whole charade starts up again.

Can you even imagine the volcanic outrage that would erupt if any of these “indiscretions” involved netballers? Imagine if one of the Thunderbirds was caught urinating in the street on a drunken bender. Or getting into some biffo with a rival netballer at a pub. Or setting fire to someone at a party as part of a hilarious “prank”.

I might be wrong, but I’m fairly positive no one would be chuckling about it on TV. There’d be gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands and long, tear-soaked editorials about “ladette” culture and the lack of positive female role models.

Yet for some reason we give male footballers a free pass when it comes to bad behaviour, and the ludicrous tradition of Mad Monday lives on.

It’s a funny place, Australia. We cheer on the battlers and the underdogs, and cut down our tall poppies, yet we lionise and defend these obscenely rich blokes who kick a ball around for part of the year and act like spoiled playboys the rest of the time.

Mad indeed.

First published in The Advertiser, September 5, 2013.