Jobe Watson with his Brownlow medal last year. Photo: Penny Stephens
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Regardless of outcomes from the ongoing ASADA investigation into Essendon, this much is now absolutely clear.
By his own admission, Jobe Watson was injected with a substance banned by WADA during last season. And he won the Brownlow Medal. That award, the game's most time-honoured and prestigious, is for the ''fairest and best'' player. Watson must surely forfeit it.
Essendon's drug crisis Photo: Jim Pavlidis
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word ''fairest'' in this context carries two relevant descriptors: ''equitable'' and ''according to the rules''. Both of these applications disqualify the Essendon skipper from eligibility during the 2012 season. Watson played with a banned drug in his system. The competition between him and other players was inequitable. Whether intended or not.
As for the second dictionary meaning of ''fairest'', it goes without saying that having a banned substance in one's system during competition is to not play the game ''according to the rules''. It matters not what the player's intent was or wasn't. It matters not that he may have been largely blameless. For the purposes of the 2012 Brownlow, and the difficult business of its arbitration, it would make no difference if Watson was assessed by WADA as being in the ''no fault'' category.
The inescapable fact of his admission he was using AOD-9604 during the 2012 season has to be game, set, and match. If it isn't, how can the AFL purport to have acted fairly to Sam Mitchell and Trent Cotchin, who finished in a tie for second?
How are Mitchell and Cotchin to feel at being denied football immortality by one who competed with the benefit of a banned substance? What are they to make of such issues as the loss of future contract leverage and of promotional opportunities that inevitably flow the way of a Brownlow medallist?
Of course, no player has ever been stripped of a Brownlow. Watson is the last you would expect such a fate to befall. He doesn't deserve the ignominy. Alas, ''deserve'' doesn't come into this. It has to be about what happened and what is fair to all. And it has to be about preserving the medal's integrity.
And anyway, sensitivity at how a player might be affected at such an outcome didn't cause the AFL squeamishness when Chris Grant polled the most votes but didn't win the Brownlow in 1997. Or when Corey McKernan tied with James Hird and Michael Voss in 1996. Both had been suspended during the year and the rules were clear. Grant and McKernan, like Watson, were players who didn't deserve such a bitter outcome. Both were admirably fair. But rules are rules.
Of course, we were all acquainted with the possibility of a player who had been suspended during that season polling the most Brownlow votes. We'd never pondered the obscure chance that a medallist would subsequently be embroiled in a case involving performance-enhancing drugs. But this is clear-cut. And the unavoidable reality is that this issue is far more serious than the issues that involved Grant and McKernan.
Of course, Essendon fans will be infuriated at the suggestion. No fairer player ever played the game, they will say; much more a ''fairest and best'' than the likes of Robert Dipierdomenico, Greg Williams, or Tony Liberatore. And in a broad sense, they will be right. But the above, to the best of our knowledge, competed, and outpolled their rivals in their winning years, on equal terms.
We now know - because he has admitted it - that, even though he may well have been unaware of it, Jobe Watson didn't.