THE FITZ FILES
Illustration: Kerrie Leishman
THERE was always just something about James Hird. One of the most likeable, decent, charismatic players the AFL has produced, he was also one of the best players of his era, and on his way to becoming a highly accomplished coach as well. Of this crop of AFL coaches, if you had to pick ''Man Least Likely'' to be mixed up in a drugs scandal, it would have been him. On Thursday, however, came the front-page allegations from The Age and the Herald, that Hird himself had taken drugs on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list. I was as stunned as anyone. It was as if hearing that Adam Gilchrist had killed a koala. Quickly, Hird's defenders, including Mrs TFF's on-air partner, Karl Stefanovic, pointed out that as Hird was not competing, he was breaking no law at all, and it was his business. An interesting point, and all the stronger if Hird had said that: "I will take whatever I damn well please, I am not on the field." But he didn't. He flat-out denied it, and I thought to give him the benefit of the doubt. But then, the denouement. Thursday night's 7.30 program and Danny Weidler's report on Channel Nine illustrated, in excruciating detail, just how close the relationship between Stephen Dank and Hird was, how intimately he was involved in reviewing all the supplements and extracts that Dank was giving his players. It blew apart all of Hird's denials in February that he knew anything about the stuff his players were given, and, "I am shocked to be here." It confirmed Wayne Bennett's analysis, that a head coach would know all about what his players were getting, otherwise he was no head coach at all. But, in my view, that 7.30 report, and the content of those texts, sadly, really does make Hird's position untenable. His players were being injected with everything from the banned anti-obesity drug AOD9604 to extracts from a pig's brain, bark and cow colostrum - and he knew it all from the start. Under those circumstances, what Hird injected into himself is the least of it. He really should stand down, and the AFL - and indeed all Australian sports - must help to bring their teams back from the murky world into which they have wandered by instituting a blanket ''no needles'' policy.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia this week, Senior US District Judge Anita Brody presided over the first legal manoeuvres in the billion-dollar class action that 4200 former NFL players - many of them battling dementia, depression or Alzheimer's disease - are taking against the NFL. The players allege they have suffered brain damage because administrators glorified violence, while hiding known concussion risks, because they were allowed and even encouraged to continue playing even when clearly concussed. Appearing for the NFL, lawyer Paul Clement said it was not the NFL that bore the responsibility. "The clubs," he said, "are the ones who had doctors on the sidelines who had primary responsibility for sending players back into the game.'' The players' lawyer, David Frederick, took the line that the NFL had "glorified" and "monetised" violence through NFL Films, "thereby profiting from vicious hits to the head". (Meanwhile, in not altogether unrelated news, everybody sing after me: "I get knocked down, but I get up again, they're never going to keep me down, I GET KNOCKED DOWN!") Frederick also accused the NFL of hiding the studies that linked concussions to neurological problems for decades. "It set up a sham committee designed to get information about neurological risks, but in fact spread misinformation." Say, I don't suppose any of this is sounding familiar, is it?
I live in the Cross. In 2001 the Lions supporters entertained the neighbourhood into the wee small hours with their songs and chants. One chant I particularly remember was ''One pound, three dollars'' (to the tune of Guantanamera). Wonder what they will sing this time. ''One pound, one dollar and 45 cents'' doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
The Sawtell Junior Rugby League Club, has created an account to support the family of Jake Kedzlie, the fine young man who died after his head hit the knee of another player in an otherwise routine tackle last weekend. If you'd like to make a donation, the details are:
Acount name: classic 4 Jake
Account number: 155435412
Six year ago, young Nick Blacklock, then 15 years old, attended the Western Zone grand finals where Tatafu Polota-Nau was presenting the trophies. Having been a fan for a couple of years, Nick asked him for a photo. Tatafu agreed, but then, looking the strongly built player over and realising he was a young man of ambition, he said, "We could take a photo now, but why don't we wait until we are playing together and take a photo then?" Nick agreed and left, more inspired to work hard on his rugby. On Saturday, when Parramatta takes on Randwick at Coogee, N. Blacklock is the loose-head prop, T. Polota-Nau is the hooker. I am sure there will be more than a few photos taken.
What they said
Andrew Demetriou on allegations that Essendon coach James Hird had injected himself with prohibited subjects. "I can't think of anything more serious. Notwithstanding that, it is very clear that … if any coach or official puts a duty of care of their players at risk, then they will be held accountable. There is no place for them in our game."
Darren Hibbert, aka ''The Gazelle'', on the drugs in sport crisis: "They said I sell peptides or drugs out of my boot - I don't do that, I drive a station wagon, I don't even have a boot." Glad we've settled that, then!
Jason Gillespie on the Australian cricket team: "We don't know the full picture, but I find it difficult to understand how Australia's team culture could reach the point where there is backchatting, where guys are not wearing the correct uniform or filling in their wellness chart." I find it hard to understand what a "wellness chart" is, but that may be just me.
Melbourne Demons president Don McLardy assuring coach Mark Neeld of his job, despite the 142-point loss last weekend: "What we saw last week and this week was a long way from acceptable. But we've got to be really strong here … I'm certain we've got the right team. What we don't want is instability in our football club. One of the key things in a football club is stability and trust in your people - and we have that. The worst thing we can do is panic." Nuh. When you lose by 142 points, it is time to panic.
Barrier Reef Basketball chairman George Colbran after handing back the licence of the Townsville Crocs: "There is a place for a Townsville-based team in the NBL competition, however the sustainability of the league must also be in question as Townsville is one of a number of NBL clubs fighting financial crises under very similar circumstances." There are now just seven NBL clubs left.
Brisbane Roar coach Mike Mulvey faces dual identities as they tackle the Western Sydney Wanderers: "There's been a fairytale happening there in Western Sydney this year and, in some people's eyes, we're lambs to the slaughter and, in other people's eyes, the slayer of the dragon." Sigh. I am nostalgic for the days of the "sleeping giant".
League powerbroker Nick Politis feels the east has been ignored for the west: "They worry about the west but obviously they have given up on the east because we are dead anyway. Dead and buried because nobody is playing rugby league in the area."
Politis again: "Have they given up on the east coast? You've got the central coast, North Sydney and the eastern suburbs where there is no rugby league. What are they going to do about that? Have they given up? Don't we need help? We probably need more help than the west."
Kieren Perkins on the current swimmers: "The guys who are involved in the team now need to take on board the lessons. Grow up a little bit and get on with the job that they're there to do, which is to be the world's best athletes, not celebrity show ponies."
Team of the week
Burwood Briars Cricket Club. The first club in Shires history to have all four grades in the grand finals, and all won but the fourths who narrowly went down.
Jarrod Croker. In his 100th NRL game, the Canberra centre scored the match-winning try and conversion (left) against the Roosters, to guide his team to a 24-22 victory, after being behind 16-0 at half-time.
South Sydney Rabbitohs. Undefeated in first five games, and they play against the other undefeated team, Melbourne, on Saturday at ANZ Stadium.
Sawtell Cricket Club. Marking their 50th consecutive year with a celebration on Saturday at Bonville International Golf Resort. For tickets please call Rocket, Bails or Golden Balls.
RIP Ian Walsh, 1933-2013. The only person to captain-coach his club to a premiership and his country to an Ashes series win, died last week. A man very highly regarded by his own generation of players, and many subsequent generations. Vale.
RIP Jake Kedzlie, 1998-2013. The grandson of Tommy Raudonikis collapsed and died after he was struck in the head during an under-16s match in Toormina, up Coffs Harbour way.
RIP Chris Simkin, 1955-2013. The Gordon Rugby Club is mourning the loss of a their great clubman, after a courageous battle against cancer. In 1976, Chris was a good enough fullback that he played a Wallabies trial from second-grade. The first-grade fullback was Laurie Monaghan. Vale, Chris.
Twitter - @Peter_Fitz