27 March 2007

Ben Cousins. Again. Yawn.

The media have gone bananas again.

Not that Ben Cousins doesn't bring it upon himself, though.

But let's just re-cap for those who don't know who Cousins is.

Cousins is probably the highest profile footballer in the AFL at the moment. He won the Brownlow Medal in 2005, which is the league's official Best and Fairest award, voted for by the umpires who officiate at each game.

In 2005, he also won the Leigh Matthews Trophy, which is a Most Valuable Player award voted for by the players. I will note here for my non-Australian readers that the Matthews Trophy doesn't have anywhere near the amount of kudos that the Brownlow Medal does as an individual award, but it still shows the level of esteem he is held in by the other players.

In 2006, his club, the West Coast Eagles, won the AFL Premiership for that season. This makes him officially a champion.

But off-field is where, like another great champion, Wayne Carey, he is more likely to be remembered.

During the end-of-season celebrations in 2002, Cousins was involved in a punch-up with fellow Eagle, Daniel Kerr.

In 2005, Cousins and team-mate Michael Gardiner famously refused to aid police after an incident involving a stabbing and a shooting at Perth's Metro City nightclub.

Incidentally, West Coast management told the pair that they were on their last warning after this affair.

And in early 2006, Cousins stopped his car and did a runner after noticing a booze bus up ahead, and working out that he was well over the legal blood-alcohol limit. He was fined for that, and no doubt copped some ridicule from other players over it.

Then in December 2006, he was arrested outside Crown Casino in Melbourne after getting a little rowdy and then passing out outside. Some incriminating photos were published by the media from this affair.

West Coast's management pretty much went on record at this point and basically indicated that the club would do nothing about Cousins' repeated indiscretions for no other reason than that he is a star player.

But the most recent events are surreal, even by Cousins' low standards.

Cousins' was suspended indefinitely after not showing up to training on repeated occasions.

Speculation mounted before finally it was revealed that Cousins had a drug problem.

Now this is where I get upset.

Cousins problems, bad as they are, relate to recreational drugs. The way that the media are going after him, though, you'd think that he was busted for blood-doping or something anabolic.

Now the AFL does not have a good record with regards to recreational drugs. Being sponsored every other year by either Victoria Bitter or Carlton Draught is hypocritical in the extreme. Alcohol is a recreational drug.

But the AFL wouldn't be alone in this regard.

Cousins should not let his recreational drug use interfere with his career as a professional footballer, however, his recreational drug use is his business, and his alone. And let's not forget, that this only came to light because several Eagles, including Cousins, were drug-tested the day before this was made public.

Some in the media are trying to spin it that Cousins' fall from grace is due to breaking up with his long term girlfriend, but this is also none of anyone's business.

So why are sporting bodies so fixated on recreational drug-use? Provided it doesn't interfere with one's career, one should be free to do whatever they like in the privacy of one's own home, or in a club, or at the pub?

Some have suggested that it's to protect sponsors from Big Alcohol who rather like people to keep chugging their product. If they're not because someone's smoking grass or having a few hits from a ice pipe, Big Alcohol is, quite rightly, going to get upset. After all, they sponsor the game and it's not through altruism, either.

AFL footballers are largely well known for their superhuman intake of alcohol, and this makes them all round good guys in the eyes of the media.

But here's the rub.

While Cousins' "substance abuse" problem is well known, when was the last time you heard of a footballer being 'outed' with an alcohol problem?

Since Cousins' problems were made public, several other key pieces of innuendo circulated about other players' problems in the same vein. Pun unintentional.

But we all remember Dale Lewis being sent to Coventry by the media for suggesting that footballers recreational drug use was anything other than alcohol.

The AFL, the media and the West Coast Eagles Football Club are seriously guilty of burying their heads in the sand on this issue for too long. People, and I like to think that footballers are people too, indulge in all manner of recreational drugs. Just why the hypocrisy exists is a complete enigma to me.

Edit 27/03/2007: Greg has put up a ripper post on this, and my learned advice is to check it out.

Footnote: The mighty Swans play the Eagles this weekend in Round 1 of the 2007 AFL Season. Go Swans!

27 comments:

beepbeepitsme said...

Go the eagles! Ooops, I mean "GOO THE SWANS!"

Einzige said...

Right there with you, dikkii!

Greg said...

As a card-carrying libertarian ("narco-libertarian" even), it may seem odd that I'm so down on footballers taking recreational drugs.

But these guys must be held to a higher standard than others, not least because they've entered a contract.

A key pillar of the liberatarian philosophy is personal responsibility, which means being able to freely enter contracts. Contracts that are binding. And that means monitoring and enforcement.

Ben Cousins is paid over $800K to play less than 50 hours of footy a year. He also has to train for a few hours most days too.

While there's no question he's a top performer, his drug use must still impact negatively, albeit slightly. (It's inconceivable that he is putting in 100% in training or playing after taking cocaine, ice or ecstasy in the preceeding days.)

It would be the same if he routinely ran marathons the day before a big match, or got two hours sleep a night or lived on junk food - or played with a hangover!

In failing to perform at his peak, he is robbing the fans and members. Well, maybe theft is too strong but he's certainly taking money under false pretences.

If he wants to enjoy a drugged up lifestyle, he can play footy in a state or regional league with lower standards.

If he wants to step up and take the big bucks, he has to live up to his end of the bargain.

Dikkii said...

As a card-carrying libertarian ("narco-libertarian" even), it may seem odd that I'm so down on footballers taking recreational drugs.

Nothing inconsistent about this. It's basically a round about way of saying that Footballers who get paid large sums of dosh are being compensated for every waking moment, and not the time they spend clocked in or out.

But even though I consider myself a small-a anarcho-capitalist, which is one stop short of pure libertarianism, I disagree with this sentiment. You're basically saying that footballers' time belongs to the club, lock, stock and barrel.

"Role model" duties, notwithstanding.

I contend that, just like everyone else, and unless a footballer's contract specifies something different, they discontinue being owned by that football club when they "clock-out".

But this is moot. Where you and I agree, and this is the relevant part, is that where this starts to interfere with their performance on the field, they should be held accountable.

No argument from me on this, in fact, I mentioned it in my post.

My point is that sporting bodies (and the media) generally like to launch witch-hunts for recreational drug users, regardless of whether it's interfering with their sporting performance, and regardless of how much the players concerned are being paid.

It's a bit much when aforementioned sporting bodies condone, nay, actively foster cultures of serious drinking which gets unnoticed in the rush to name and shame.

Dikkii said...

Incidentally, Greg, given that libertarianism appears to be the new word for 'Rand-ian [as opposed to Randi-an] Objectivism', how do you support the 'role model' argument given that it appears to proscribe adherence to social norms over and above individual behaviour where individual behaviour does not interfere with performance on the field (or anyone else for that matter)?

Just curious.

Greg said...

In a nutshell, kids look up to footballers. This is just human nature. However, it is deliberately amplified for marketing purposes.

All those posters stuck up on bedroom walls around the country don't happen by accident: it takes a serious and sustained effort by the clubs, the media etc.

Throw in some media work, footy clinics, community appearances and we've got a fame factory.

Most kids - and many adults - simply don't have the wherewithall to look up to footballers solely for their on-field efforts. Their values, conduct and off-field behaviour form part of the package too.

I wish there wasn't such a spill-over, but there it is.

Ayn Rand mightn't like it, but impressionable people are vulnerable to irrationality.

Dikkii said...

I wish there wasn't such a spill-over, but there it is.

Ayn Rand mightn't like it, but impressionable people are vulnerable to irrationality.


Good answer and a refreshing change from most libertarians who like to parrot Friedman and harp on about "personal choice".

I wish that there wasn't such a spillover, either.

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

What is it with pro athletes? You work your ass off to be the best at what you do then fuck off and get arrested for stupid shit every time you leave the house?

We've got the same damn problems in the states, except, over here, it affects entire teams. Last year, over a dozen players from the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals were arrested for various offenses, most of them drug related. We won't even talk about the history of the University of Miami...

I wish the AFL was shown more prominently here in the States; I saw a match on TV when I was younger and fuckin' loved it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen one since; I remember it as a fun, brutal, rugby-like game.

And I agree that athletes (pro or not) have a right to drink or smoke whatever they want but, goddamnit, the team, the fans, and the sport comes first. They're not being paid to get faced, start fights, and crash cars; they're paid to play.

Dikkii said...

Jenner wrote:

We've got the same damn problems in the states, except, over here, it affects entire teams. Last year, over a dozen players from the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals were arrested for various offenses, most of them drug related. We won't even talk about the history of the University of Miami...

I suppose that we're kinda lucky in that we don't have quite the same problems in the AFL. Although the problems with Cousins and his mates appear to be unearthing more problems in the Eagles as the days go by. We'll soon know the extent of it.

I wish the AFL was shown more prominently here in the States; I saw a match on TV when I was younger and fuckin' loved it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen one since; I remember it as a fun, brutal, rugby-like game.

I don't suppose that there would be much demand for it in the States. Having said that, it's always interesting to come across an American who likes the game.

And I agree that athletes (pro or not) have a right to drink or smoke whatever they want but, goddamnit, the team, the fans, and the sport comes first. They're not being paid to get faced, start fights, and crash cars; they're paid to play.

Quite right, which was one of the points that I was making.

The downside of this, is that the players are getting mixed messages about when it's OK to fuck up.

When it interferes with their playing, this is when it is a bad thing.

As a sidenote, I have been reminded in the last couple of days that coke and ice (the drugs that Cousins is said to have a problem with) are performance-enhancing drugs.

I'm re-considering my stance on this as a result - if they have performance-enhancing properties, then I think that they cross-over from being purely recreational drugs to being performance-enhancing drugs and thus my comparison with alcohol ceases to be helpful.

Thanks for dropping by, Jenner.

Kathryn said...

The West Coast Eagles and their major sponsor Hungry Jacks are proud to announce their new joint promotion.

The Ben Cousins Meal Deal.

No burger, no fries,

Just coke and ice




The Ben Cousins jokes were slow to start, but I don't think they'll stop there...

Dikkii said...

Kathryn, I hope you're right.

If I get another email with that joke in it, I'm going to go mental.

ted said...

I have to admit Dikkii, I've been putting off commenting on this one. A. I'm really not much of a football fan and B, during a particularly sordid stage of my mis-spent youth, I developed myself a mild speed habit, so I know what the silly bugger is going through and I also know that if he does want to get through it, then he needs to be left alone to get on with it.

I've also heard a lot of people say that the drugs he's been using are not performance enhancing, including Mr. Demetriou. Never before have I heard a bigger load of crap. Speed in any form is designed to make you more alert, faster on your feet and stronger (and if you have enough, it makes your head spin forwards so it feels like your tumbling), in the short term. 12 hours will see it out of your system too.

So to my mind, especially considering the money he makes because of his exceptional, albeit "enhanced", skills and ability to perform, he should also probably be branded a cheat and have to suffer accordingly... Sorry if that upsets anyone, but I used to put in some amazing swimming performances after a line or 2. Couldn't beat Greg Fasala though (he swam for Footscray, I for Essendon), he was fast!

And the direction this has caused the whole "drugs in sport" thing to be taken is simply ridiculous. School boys being tested because they row well? Give me a break!

Dikkii said...

G'day Ted,

I was aware that you're not a footy fan - although I didn't know you were a swimmer in your youth.

Agree that Cousins should be left alone.

But I have to admit to dropping the ball on the performance related side of the drugs in question - this is important.

Yes, coke and ice are performancne enhancing drugs. Mea culpa.

I should state for the record that if they were standard recreational drugs such as cannibis, acid, alcohol or suchlike, where there is no performance enhancing qualities, this should be none of the AFL's or the clubs business unless such use interferes with standard football commitments.

I don't recall Demetriou saying this - but if he did, this is irresponsible in the extreme, and more than just a bit incorrect.

ted said...

It was after the footy last week (just because I don't follow it doesn't mean my wife and kids aren't one eyed Carlton supporters). Dennis Cometti asked him the questions and he said "No, not at all." I damn near choked on my coffee. As I look around now though, I see he's making a distinction between "performance enhancing and illicit drugs".

I think there's a reason for it though. West Coast won the flag last year and now they have a serious problem with a drug culture. Coke, speed and ice are all serious short term performance enhancers. My wife reckons they should just hand the flag over to the Swans.

Yep. Swimming in summer and hockey (field - goal keeper) in winter and I did both for Essendon. Was good enough to hold my own until A. I came up against Greg in the 100m freestyle (short course - I came second by my usual 2 or 3 metre winning margin, only to discover I'd been beaten by a full lap - I'd been winning that race for 3 years. I was totally demoralised afterwards.) and B. I discovered the merits, or lack thereof, of a good party...:) I did it from young enough and for long enough though that I've still got a limited life membership card for the Essendon Club laying around somewhere. It entitles me to get into the bar (pokies now) and go to any AFL (VFL when I got it) game played at Windy Hill (I did manage to get to one or two before they moved) but it doesn't say a damn thing about the cricket or swimming, but they're usually free. Well, until you get to the pointy end of the season anyway...

Dikkii said...

Hi Ted, you wrote:

I think there's a reason for it though. West Coast won the flag last year and now they have a serious problem with a drug culture. Coke, speed and ice are all serious short term performance enhancers. My wife reckons they should just hand the flag over to the Swans.

Mate, I'd second you on this. Except for the small fact that being a Swans fan I have a minor conflict of interest which precludes me from being objective.

Geez, you sound like you were quite an athlete in your youth.

Myself, I just played a bit of soccer for a club called Wakehurst on the northern beaches of Sydney. I was generally a right wing, then.

When I moved to Albury, soccer was next to non-existent, so I played hockey for school - right wing again (field hockey for those of you reading from North America).

Strangely, when I played soccer again at Uni, I found that I was generally sweeper or centre back.

Also played a bit of footy and a bit of rugby union at Uni - I was normally back pocket in footy and scrum-half in rugby.

But I've generally been crap at sport.

ted said...

Dikkii: Except for the small fact that being a Swans fan I have a minor conflict of interest which precludes me from being objective.

Fair enough too :) And let's face it, it wouldn't be a very satisfying way to get a flag.

Geez, you sound like you were quite an athlete in your youth.

It was a family thing. 4 of 5 kids played hockey and all of us swam at some stage. It taught me to enjoy being fit though. Consequently, I can still ride my bike 100km if I need to without really trying to hard...:)

A curse on verification!

Dikkii said...

A curse on verification!

I'm actually thinking of getting rid of this. I really don't get enough traffic to make it worthwhile.

Greg said...

Thought I'd throw this ethical poser into the stew to see what sticks to the pan and what floats ...

We all agree that ice (crystal meth) and cocaine are performance enhancing on match day. We also know that using these drugs decreases effectiveness of training and competing for the next few days. (Lack of concentration, exhaustion, mild depression and withdrawl could all be advanced as reasons.)

GIVEN that you foolishly got yourself horribly addicted to ice AND you wrecked yourself on a three day binge prior to match day, COULD you argue that a bit of blow before the game is actually the ethical thing to do?

The argument could be advanced that a quick toke on your meth pipe would counter the withdrawl etc that would stop you performing "normally". It might be worse to rip off your teammates and fans by under-performing than to use drugs on the day.

Outlandish? Maybe. But I wonder how many footballers have faced this dilemma, and how many have thought "yes, that's fair enough" before snorting an eye-opener.

Dikkii said...

That's quite a nasty dilemma, Greg, and it's one I'm glad we'll never find out the answer to.

Rest assured that the AFL and the clubs would swiftly sweep that one under the carpet as well.

Speaking of nasty dilemmas, Jack Marx blogged recently about the treatment the Murdoch media gave Libby Lenton recently for not letting them into her wedding.

I'm curious about your take on this, given your ambivalence to the media invading footballers personal lives - the Telegraph and the Hun both attacked Lenton for not giving the "Australian public" (read the Murdoch media) a chance to see the Lenton wedding along with the invited guests.

The Hun even said this:

Australian taxpayers, who contribute to the success of Australian athletes through the Australian Sports Commission, have every right to feel miffed by this extreme exclusivity.

Was Lenton's wedding fair game for all, including the "Australian public"? Were the Murdoch media being childish idiots because they couldn't secure the rights? Was Lenton right to sell her wedding rights to another media group if she wished? Was Lenton being a greedy idiot by selling her wedding rights to a media group in the first place?

I answered No, Yes, Yes, and Yes to this.

Curious to see your answers.

Greg said...

I'm going with "no, yes, yes and yes" as well.

Athletes are under no obligation to help media sales along.

As I understand it, the AIS thing is basically a scholarship. As a scholarship recipient myself (for my PhD), I have strong views about intellectual property ownership obligations - but that's it. There's no obligations beyond what's spelled out in the scholarship agreement.

It's purely a commercial arrangement with no public interest (which isn't to say the public isn't interested). If the Murdoch press wanted to fill its pages with athletes' wedding shots, they could negotiate the rights to that when the athletes are poor and vulnerable. Or offer their own scholarships.

Of course, the public (including Murdoch photographers) have every right to gather and record photons reflected from objects in a public space. Any talk of privatising the public realm by use of "exclusion zones" and "copyright" claims on wedding dresses and cakes should be immediately hosed down.

On a personal note, I wouldn't want my wedding day remembered for the tent I wore. But then, I'm not particularly money-oriented.

Dikkii said...

As I understand it, the AIS thing is basically a scholarship. As a scholarship recipient myself (for my PhD), I have strong views about intellectual property ownership obligations - but that's it. There's no obligations beyond what's spelled out in the scholarship agreement.

The way I read it, the News media is attempting to apply consistency here - they're up front about footballers being paid for their "role model work" (i.e. their entire personal life is fair game) and now they're applying this to AIS graduates.

It's purely a commercial arrangement with no public interest (which isn't to say the public isn't interested).

I think you'd find that your scholarship, just like an AIS one, is subject to the relevant FOI Act - making it any taxpayers' interest, should they wish to file the necessary FOI paperwork.

Mind you, this begs the question - an AIS scholarship for Lenton would be of interest to taxpayers, but would your particular scholarship? I would respectfully agree with your comments about your own scholarship, given your relatively low media profile and disagree about applying these comments to an AIS graduate.

Public funds are the interest of all taxpayers. Even if you believe your scholarship is off limits.

On a personal note, I wouldn't want my wedding day remembered for the tent I wore. But then, I'm not particularly money-oriented.

Neither would I. Isn't it a good thing that I didn't wear one?

Greg said...

Perhaps I was a bit unclear about the scholarship thing. Certainly, the taxpayers have every right to know about any scholarship, when it was awarded, to whom, for what purpose, how it's administered etc. No beef there. (On my thesis project web page I thank the taxpayers and provide them with an FAQ.)

But a scholarship does not require one to let the press into all events and functions. My wedding, for instance, is not up for grabs.

I don't think the press has an absolute right to photograph footballers' weddings either. They can report on it, but if the sports star has booked the venue then that's pretty clear.

If helping newspaper and magazine circulation was part of the scholarship obligation, then that should be spelled out upfront and factored into the price.

Just broadening it out, it seems there is a struggle between what is "public" and what is "for sale". Weddings used to be public events, where anyone could show up or wait out the front. Since media owners profit from that openness (but not at anyone's expense), public figures have sought to make tje event excludable and hence saleable.

The mindset seems to be "if anyone's gonna make a buck off this, it's me".

Aren't we all a little poorer for this?

Dikkii said...

G'day Greg. You wrote:

On my thesis project web page I thank the taxpayers and provide them with an FAQ.

Which is above and beyond what most students would do. Well done, I say, although if I was in the same situation, I personally would wait for the FOI request.

I'm essentially pretty lazy like that.

If helping newspaper and magazine circulation was part of the scholarship obligation, then that should be spelled out upfront and factored into the price.

This is the crux of the "role model" argument that the media likes to use if they ever decide to attack a sportsman over private life indiscretions.

Basically I'm sure that it's not in any footballer's contract as to what they do in their private lives. Yet the moment it's made public, be it indiscretions with recreational drugs, affairs with models or weddings, the media is the first to stake a claim to a sportsperson based on the spurious claim that kiddies look up to them.

Notice I said recreational drugs.

In any event you wrote this:

Just broadening it out, it seems there is a struggle between what is "public" and what is "for sale". Weddings used to be public events, where anyone could show up or wait out the front.

This begs the question - just where do you draw the line?

I draw it at the sporting arena, unless behaviour outside the sporting arena interferes with this, or they willingly call a press conference or suchlike.

The mindset seems to be "if anyone's gonna make a buck off this, it's me".

Aren't we all a little poorer for this?


It's a mindset that has no dignity or decorem.

And, my word, we totally are completely the poorer for it.

Greg said...

Hmmm, I actually do believe in the "role model" argument. (You know,
"with rights come responsibilities", "you can't have your cake and eat it", "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" and other little homilies learnt at my mother's knee.)

I just don't think it means that photographers can impose themselves at a private function.

The sports star in question (footballer or swimmer) does not need to benefit from a scholarship OR have such things spelled out in a contract to be subject to the "role model" argument.

If Lenton or Hackett were fighting out the front of a nightclub, or doing lines in a taxi or spruiked some get-rich-quick scheme that went belly up or whatever, then that's fair game.

The fact that they got married can be reported; who's allowed inside the hall/church/TV studio is up to the venue bookers.

Where do I draw the line? On my blog, you'll notice I haven't touched the Whitnall thing, despite it being front page here in Melbourne more than once.

Those kids - "Jett" and "Exavier" (poor tykes) - have enough to worry about being born into a cashed-up bogan family without their parents' childishness amplified by hateful bloggers like me.

Dikkii said...

Hmmm, I actually do believe in the "role model" argument. (You know,
"with rights come responsibilities", "you can't have your cake and eat it", "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" and other little homilies learnt at my mother's knee.)


Might as well add, "You can't have it both ways," to that list, because that's pretty much what the role model argument entails.

It's basically saying that highly paid sportsmen and women are justifiably subject to a higher level of scrutiny about what goes on in their private lives than the rest of us, just because they're highly paid.

It's not what I consider to be a valid argument.

I just don't think it means that photographers can impose themselves at a private function.

I consider this to be pertinent to the role model argument, because a private function is just as public an affair as doing lines in the confines of a taxi.

Where do I draw the line? On my blog, you'll notice I haven't touched the Whitnall thing, despite it being front page here in Melbourne more than once.

You know, when that story broke, I didn't even go over to your blog to look it up. This probably gives you an idea how uninterested I am in the Whitnall family shenanigans.

Those kids - "Jett" and "Exavier" (poor tykes) - have enough to worry about being born into a cashed-up bogan family without their parents' childishness amplified by hateful bloggers like me.

Holy crap.

"Jett" and "Exavier"???

That is child abuse, pure and simple.

Jared said...

Im currently in year 12 and have and Oral Sac to present soon. My topic relates directly to drugs in sport and the effect from the media on sporting personal. Many events are emphasises dramatically. Obviously Ben did something wrong theres no question about that but is it right to ban him? They haven't put a specific "ban" on him as such but he has been out for many many months now. Ben Cousins as a midfileder needs to have a strong fitness, stimulents increase anaerobic performance, being a mid-fielder he has to use his aerobic energy systems so for him these illicit drugs are actually little or no benefit towards his performance.

Dikkii said...

Jared, your spelling is a disgrace.

If my spelling, punctuation and paragraphing was as bad as yours in year 12, I'd be suing my school. Thank your lucky stars that your SAC is oral, and not written.

Now that I'm off my soapbox, I should point out that if there is one thing that the internet has taught us, it's to bypass Google entirely, and go straight for Wikipedia. Contrary to what everyone tells you, it's remarkably good at sciency stuff.

And you'll find that if you click here, you'll see that short bursts of speed, such as what midfielders put on in football matches is entirely anaerobic.

Not convinced?

Let's look up cocaine.

Increases energy, stimulates the central nervous system. Sounds performance enhancing to me.

Still not convinced?

Let's try crystal meth, which is what our media likes to call "ice".

...epinephrine-provoked fight-or-flight response...

Well I've seen enough, how about you?

Incidentally, he never failed a drug test. So he was never banned, as such.

Cheers, and do come back.