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The truth is out there...apparently

No-brainer 1: Cousins' drug use was so widespread he had to be suspended.

No-brainer 1: Cousins' drug use was so widespread he had to be suspended.

A player registers his third strike under the competition's illicit drug testing regime. Not just any player but one of the league's biggest names, a bona fide 100-goal a season superstar.

Do we hit him publicly with the full force of the maximum available punishment? Or do we save face - his and ours - by dealing with it on the quiet?

Hmmmmmmmmm...

No-brainer 2: Did Travis Tuck's low profile make it easier to suspend, I wonder?

No-brainer 2: Did Travis Tuck's low profile make it easier to suspend, I wonder? Photo: Getty Images

First of all, let me say this isn't about Buddy Franklin.

I've no reason not to believe the very emphatic denials yesterday by Hawthorn yesterday of the three-strike rumours around Buddy. And I've seen no evidence to suggest his six weeks on the sidelines are anything other than the result of a hamstring problem and then illness.

But the gossip that arose about Buddy late last week - and it's at least the second time it's popped up in the past few years minus any semblance of proof - caused me and my golfing buddies (both of them Hawks fans) to spend a couple of holes debating an interesting question.

If a really big name AFL player did happen to return a third strike, would we necessarily even hear about it?

Most footy fans would be at least vaguely familiar with the basic tenets of the AFL's Illicit Drug Policy, which differs from standard anti-doping testing by focusing on education and rehabilitation and being carried out away from game day.

In simple terms: one positive test equals a suspended $5000 fine (player and club doctor informed); a second positive test equals a suspended six-match sentence (again, player and club doctor informed); a third positive tests triggers those suspended sentences and results in a tribunal appearance (player, club doctor informed, along with AFL's GM of footy operations and the relevant club's CEO).

Positive tests are wiped after four years. Reduced penalties can be applied in compelling and exceptional circumstances. And the policy is administered by the AFL's Medical Officer.

So, let's again assume a truly big name player gets to strike three and ask what the AFL has to gain by naming and shaming him?

Maybe that it's dinkum in trying to strike out illicit drug use. And that's about it.

On the other hand, what's there to be won by dealing with the issue on the down-low?

Well, a mountain of ongoing bad press avoided for starters. Probably a couple of sponsorship deals saved too. And then, if the policy is - as much-trumpeted - about welfare, a chance for player to tackle his problems away from prying eyes.

On last night's AFL 360 on Fox Footy, Mark Robinson suggested that if a third positive test for Buddy (or any player) was buried then it would be a conspiracy of epic proportions.

Maybe he's right. Perhaps I've spent too long recently watching old X-Files DVDs or got so sucked in by Kevin Costner's overt earnestness that I didn't realise JFK was only Oliver Stone's take on history.

Then again, I know the AFL is an organisation so commercially minded that it bans websites like this one from interviewing players and has hired (and is in the process of hiring) hordes of journalists to try and make afl.com.au a one-stop news shop.***

I know the AFL's two biggest illicit drug-related scalps so far have been no-brainers - one a star so publicly far off the rails (Ben Cousins) that punishment was unavoidable, the other a comparative minnow (Travis Tuck) found passed out by cops in a car in possession of drugs.

I know that almost every stakeholder in the illicit drugs policy is (basically with good reason) an internal one; that as a non-government organisation there is no such thing as freedom of information requirements and that it is up to the AFL what is disclosed publicly.

I also know that in every public relations job I've ever worked - at an AFL club, in government and for corporate clients - managing an organisation's reputation always revolved around exactly how much of the truth we really needed to tell the wide world (and, accordingly, how little we could get away with revealing).

If an AFL superstar ever records a third strike then the truth will be out there somewhere.

I'm just still not completely convinced that you and I - this time in the guise of everyday fans - would ever hear about it.

*** Fair play here, the AFL website is now a million times more edgy - and readable - than it's ever been. It's only five years ago that I was censored for writing about two beautiful young women who ran out on to the field during a pretty boring Brisbane-Geelong game at the Gabba in nothing more than their bra and panties. The resultant pursuit by security was comical, to say the least - but at the time, not deemed fit for the AFL's home page.

18 comments so far

  • You looking at trying to win the award for the Best accusation of Buddy having 3 strikes without just coming out and saying you want to accuse Buddy of having 3 Strikes! The dumbest idea ever that the AFL could cover up a 3 strike taker! The Risk is way, way, way, way, below any "reward" that they would get for doing it. An uncovered cover-up would run for decades. A 3 strike taker would run for a few weeks!

    Commenter
    Phillip Molly Malone
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    August 21, 2012, 1:23PM
    • No sense of accusation at all Molly - in all honesty wouldn't have a clue about Buddy either way. I sincerely hope not as he is a terrific player and I've missed watching him play the past six weeks. But I am interested in debating the pros/cons/feasibility of keeping a triple-strike quiet-ish (an action for which there might be a very valid medical reason). We differ in opinion on how simple this might be - my thought is that a lot that goes on medically would be fairly easy to keep on the down-low.

      Commenter
      Simon White
      Date and time
      August 21, 2012, 2:54PM
    • I am innocent

      Commenter
      Lance Armstrong
      Location
      The Rockies
      Date and time
      August 24, 2012, 1:17PM
  • not real subtle Simon.

    cheers

    Commenter
    umrum
    Location
    kal
    Date and time
    August 21, 2012, 1:36PM
    • You sound glum Umrum! I truly have no idea about the Buddy rumours and have only heard them fifth or sixth-hand (maybe even 600th hand), so I wouldn't personally be putting any stock in them. I think the whole issue of whether fans would (or should) hear about a superstar registering a third positive is worth discussing though. Happy punting in the spring, buddy...

      Commenter
      Simon White.
      Date and time
      August 21, 2012, 2:57PM
    • Cheers Simmo you too mate.

      Commenter
      umrum
      Location
      kal
      Date and time
      August 21, 2012, 6:38PM
  • I think we all know the answer to this Simon.

    Don't get confused people the AFL is not like soccer or the olympics spots it is one league run by one group of people, not unlike the NFL or WWE wrestling it is at its core an entertainment business. Like the NFL there are no far reaching ramifications to other leagues of governing bodies when decisions are made so when the AFL want to make a rule change for example they make it.
    This can't be done for example in English football, they need the agreement of multiple governing bodies which is alot more difficult and time consuming to instigate, just look at goal-line technology, or teams getting thrown out of European competitions for poor fan behavior.
    The AFL in essence is a law unto themselves, when they want to sweep something under the carpet they can.

    If I were running the AFL there is no way I would release information about a star player/ AFL poster boy being a drug user, I could justify it anyway I want but in the interests of the AFL I would not be doing my job if i revealed it, it would do enormous damage to the brand and afterall the AFL is a business, I can't think of BHP or Chevron coming out and saying their CEO failed a drugs test, it wouldn't happen because it would damage their brand.

    Commenter
    the thinker
    Date and time
    August 21, 2012, 1:50PM
    • Firstly, a correction – the Illicit Drug Policy never caught Ben Cousins, who was charged by the AFL Commission with bringing the game into disrepute as a result of his behaviour. I think we only need to look at the history of AFL sanctions for various things to know that the AFL is not concerned about whether a player or club is a big name. The AFL severely sanctioned Carlton for salary cap breaches, rendering them uncompetitive for a decade – surely if the whole “commercial dollar” theory stacks up, the AFL would want one of it’s biggest clubs successful and playing finals and would not have sanctioned them at all? The AFL also sanctioned Essendon for salary cap breaches – so they have penalised the only two clubs to have won 16 premierships. A different issue yes, but if we’re talking about sponsors and commercial dollars, I don’t see much difference. The fact is, the AFL is smart enough to understand that a cover-up would be found out – there are far too many links in the chain between the staff at the drug labs, staff at the doctors, staff at the club, AFL staff, not to mention friends and family. Guys at the level of Demetriou, etc have personal assistants who read & sort their emails – there are just far too many ways for the story to get out. A cover-up would be a far, far bigger story than a 3rd strike for a player, so the AFL would take the lesser hit of being seen to be transparent. It’s a conspiracy theory that simply doesn’t fly, I’m afraid.

      Commenter
      Marshy
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 21, 2012, 2:12PM
      • True Marshy - the Illicit Drug Policy never caught Ben Cousins. But I haven't actually written that it has. All I've suggested was that illicit drugs were a trigger in Cousins' year-long suspension for bringing the game into disrepute and I don't think anyone would doubt that. On the "keeping quiet" issue, we differ in opinion I'm afraid. But that's the good thing about a debate or discussion - arguments from both sides. Cheers for the feedback.

        Commenter
        Simon White
        Date and time
        August 21, 2012, 2:49PM
      • I agree with you, Marshy.

        Commenter
        jj
        Location
        perth
        Date and time
        August 21, 2012, 2:53PM

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