'Hysteria' over drugs in AFL
Age crime reporter John Silvester laments the 'nonsense' and 'hysteria' surrounding the AFL drug debate.PT0M0S 620 349
AFL players are evasive targets on the field but easy ones off it.
They are rich, young, don't work nine to five jobs and usually end up with the pretty girls who wear stilettos and slinky skirts to the Brownlow.
And, if the hysteria is to believed, they spend most of their down time high as kites on one drug or another. Most, it would appear, make rock stars look like Mormons.
'The drug-testing policy, flawed as it is, has deterred many and therefore has helped save lives.' Photo: John Donegan
The AFL drug testing is a joke, we are told, and players have long ago worked out how to beat the system.
The truth is the players have agreed to a voluntary system where they can be tested for non-performance illicit drug use. This means they have entered a program where they can risk their careers through self-incrimination.
If they are found using performance enhancing drugs they are rightly booted out of the game as cheats.
Some say the illicit drug policy, where they are sent for treatment for the first two strikes before being banned after the third, is too soft.
"Drugs are illegal," the lock-them-up lobby repeats. "Why are they treated differently?"
Well they are not - we all live under a three-strike policy.
When police catch someone carrying drugs for personal use, they will be given a diversion order, not once but twice. Only on the third offence will someone be charged and go to court (only to get a bond).
Some clubs want to be notified after a second strike, so they can look after the welfare of the player.
But if the club has that confidential information it can use it for a secret advantage. It could trade the player to another team, which would be unaware it was buying a drug problem not of its making.
There has been a spike in positive tests and the AFL and the clubs are deeply worried. The players are risking their health, their future and some have made really dumb decisions, which they will forever regret.
Many, it should be remembered, are immature with few life skills.
When this writer was asked to speak to one playing group about the dangers, we asked how long we should speak. "Mate, if you can hold them for four minutes, you're Winston Churchill," said the CEO.
But there is no doubt AFL players will be under-represented in drug statistics for their age demographics.
They are elite athletes, who drink less, eat healthier and exercise more than their non-footballer mates. The drug-testing policy, flawed as it is, has deterred many and therefore has helped save lives.
Some break the rules. They take illegal drugs and some are beating the system by using prescribed sedatives combined with caffeine shots to get high.
In 2010, after drug addict Ben Cousins ended up in intensive care during his stint with Richmond, he claimed to have suffered an adverse reaction to sleeping tablets.
If you believe that then the moon is made of blue cheese.
We know that on some end-of-year trips players have binged on drugs. On one occasion an unconscious player was woken to be fed more pills by a senior teammate.
The AFL is meeting today to look at its policy and will make changes, among them, closing the self-reporting loophole that allows players to avoid a "strike" test result.
Football has a drug problem and so does the rest of society. And at least the AFL is trying to do something about it.
Many reporters will be covering today's AFL drug summit. None of them are subject to drug testing in their workplace.