Of Heroes

Just a quick post this time to mention two sports people in the news downunder.

Firstly, last night we saw an amazing performance from Jana Rawlinson who won the 400m hurdles at the World Athletic Championships in Japan. What is remarkable about this is that she did it only 8 months after having a baby. This is a lady who in some ways self destructed just prior to the Athens Olympics so it is a fantastic effort for not only making the comeback but for the manner in which she has done it. I understand she continued to train through most of her pregnancy.

Secondly, Andrew Johns, arguably the greatest Rugby League player Australia has produced and therefore one of the best ever anywhere, admitted on the Channel 9’s NRL Footy Show last night that he has been taking illicit drugs for 14 years. You can see a video of his confession here.

In my eyes Andrew Johns has just stepped up a rung on the pedestal despite the fact that this confession may well tarnish his playing reputation I think that he has shown an enormous amount of courage to come out and expose his personal issues so publicly. I fear that it is the tip of an iceberg in terms of the illicit drug problem amongst elite sportsman in this country but I hope that it will now not continue to be swept under the carpet.

Channel 7 a week ago purchased some confidential medical records that have since turned out to be stolen. These records named a Melbourne AFL club and stated that two of it’s players were in rehab for drug use. The story has become more about the purchase of stolen medical records than about the issue of illicit drug use and I have been astounded by the response from both the AFL and the AFL Players Association in the vilification of the journalist who broke the story and the fact that in my opinion they are missing the point about the drug use.

The AFL and the AFLPA claim that it has the most stringent drug testing policy of any sport in this country or the world but there are way too many unanswered questions here for me to believe what they are saying.

We know, for example, that Ben Cousins, who plays for the West Coast Eagles, has or had a major drug problem and we also know that he never tested positive for drug use. What we don’t know about the current situation is whether these players alluded to by Channel 7 have tested positive and were caught by the AFL’s drug testing or whether they have gone into rehab voluntarily. We don’t know how many tests are done for illicit drugs, nor how many have tested positive, nor do we know what clubs are involved. On face value, at least one Melbourne based club has a drug culture that needs to be dealt with. And under the AFL policy, unless a player has tested positive three times, that club has no right to know if any of it’s players are using drugs. That is absurd.

I also don’t like the way that the AFL and AFLPA continue to qualify what they say by stating that we know there is a drug problem but there is a drug problem in the rest of the community too. It is a cop out to claim that football players deserve some leniency because they give up a lot when they become footballers.

If lucky enough to be given an opportunity to play sport professionally they also gain a hell of a lot, including a salary that most kids won’t see in ten years of work let alone as a rookie sportsman. And those who are good enough will go on to become part of the privileged few who can retire comfortably in their early 30’s. So yes, they give up some privacy, but the payoffs can be enormous. Like it or lump it they also become role models and it is bad that kids can now see an example of elite sportsman who have taken drugs and continued to perform well on field and to prosper off it as a result of money and privilege.

Andrew Johns has at least given a public confession now and we will all watch and hope that he can overcome his problems. I would have far greater respect for the likes of Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr, and these other hidden drug users if they went public and showed that they were serious about overcoming addiction and in showing they understand the duties a role model has to younger people in society.


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