The West Coast Eagles are getting a bit of grief at the moment about a nightclub assault (stabbing and shooting no less!). No, it wasn't the footy players this time. Instead, it looks like it may have been rival gangs, including the Coffin Cheaters motorcycle club and the Scorpion Boys - apparently a group of Middle Eastern men muscling in on the drug scene, according to a white supremacist online forum. (NB: This is possibly the dodgiest source I've ever provided!)
What's that got to do with AFL footballers? Well, it seems that two Weagles Ben Cousins and Michael Gardiner (pictured below) were taking phone calls from a number of patrons inside the club at the time, including some suspected of disposing of the weapon. God knows what it was about. Media management? Legal advice? A good spot to stash the gun? Or maybe, under the new Pope, AFL players can now grant absolution?
The police are very interested to know about the contents of the calls, but the players are keeping schtum. I guess that's the Underworld code and even footy players know that crossing that won't just get you three weeks on the bench.
WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said it was disappointing the pair had refused to answer questions.
"We know that both Gardiner and Cousins had made phone calls to people in the nightclub that night. We want to find what those phone calls were about,'' Dr O'Callaghan said.
"It's their right to refuse to answer questions but I've got to say that as role models in the community it is disappointing to see they're not cooperating with police.
"It's not a good message to send to younger people.(The Age, 4/5/05)
Big deal. AFL players fraternise with gangsters. What's disturbing about this is the club reaction.
Coach John Worsfold read a prepared statement to a large media contingent, stating the club "fully supports the players in the matter that was in the press this morning".
He added the club "doesn't condone anyone associating with known criminals", but said it was a "life choice" and he would address the playing group prior to training.(Nine News, 4/5/05)
Right. The club doesn't condone its players associating with violent gangland figures. Apparently, these guys have already been warned about it prior to this. But, they've made a "lifestyle choice" and, well, their damn good kicks of the ball so ... they can stay on (including one in the captaincy).
You can see the dilemma here for the clubs. On the one hand, young, good looking, famous, cashed-up, unprincipled, testosterone-charged men with lots of time on their hands are drawn together (birds of a feather). Gangsters and footballers are a natural fit. The footy players bring a certain glamour (and chicks, no doubt), while gangsters bring drugs and street cred - any maybe protection?
On the other hand, the club can't be seen to be supporting that. It makes the essential heroic illusion of player "goodness " (talented==virtuous) harder to swallow. That jeopardises corporate sponsorship, family turn out and positive media coverage. Solution? Keep issuing press statements mouthing bland platitudes, but don't actually do anything.
If society recognised that AFL players are, by and large, dodgier than the general population, we'd have less grief when they fail to live up to the standards of role models. No one thinks that rock musicians are whiter than white - but we still send them truckloads of cash. The conflation of talent and virtue is broken and we have a realistic perspective on them. As a result, they're far less of a problem to society. Why can't we open our eyes about AFL players too?
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