In a breathtaking sign of cluefulness, West Coast Eagles management takes a principled, reasoned and sensible line on its players' off-field behaviour. Recent comments from senior club figures have been backed up with meaningful action following the weekend's outbreak of scandals in WA's top team. Whether this heralds a seachange in AFL attitudes or simply an isolated case of thoughtfulness remains to be seen. I'm sceptically optimistic.
The major disgrace belongs to West Coast's Ben Cousins. This man is meant to embody "the best and fairest" that the AFL competition has to offer; his Brownlow Medal is a testament to that. He's also the captain of last year's Premiership runners-up and is one of the League's highest-paid stars, reportedly worth over half a million bucks a year.
By now, the story is familiar: on the 12th of February, Cousins was driving home from a friend's wedding reception when he spotted a booze bus. He abandoned his gold Mercedes-Benz 4WD (with passengers inside) some 50m up the road and did a runner. (Ironically, a photo of him in full flight adorns this year's AFL Record!) The pacey mid-fielder outstripped police, who caught one of his slower mates. He then appeared at one of Perth's leading eateries:
"There was a knock at the door and we were around the back having some wine and cheese," a Bluewater Grill staff member said yesterday. "One of the managers went to answer it, but we obviously can't open the door to strangers.
"There was a guy at the door with a pair of pants on and no shirt on and she asked him what he wanted through the door."
They went to the front door, and that was when the bar manager said, 'You're Ben Cousins', and he said, 'No I'm not'.
"But the bar manager insisted and eventually Ben said, 'I am Ben Cousins'.
"I've got no doubts whatsoever it was Ben, but it wasn't until we'd read the media reports that we were able to put it together. He was panting and the bar manager said he looked a bit drunk and was asking for water. He stayed at the restaurant for about 15 to 20 minutes, but he didn't come in. It seemed really odd at the time." (The Age, 20/02/06)
This fool later realised he had no choice but to turn himself over to police. He may face minor charges including obstructing traffic by leaving his $140,000 car on a highway. He denies he was drunk. (Hey Ben! When a man with your connections and rumours flees police and appears sweaty, addled and shirtless in public ... best to say you're drunk, n'est pas?) He's still not co-operating fully with police. Cousins also failed to co-operate with police on an earlier matter involving playing gangsters with underworld figures involved in a shooting and stabbing at a Perth nightclub.
Ben Cousins Kisses His Luck Goodbye
Source: ABC Online
The only ray of light in what could have been just another spoilt footballer story has been some comments by the club leadership, including chief executive Trevor Nisbett:
"If he has done that and he has run from a booze bus, well obviously it's a ridiculous thing to do," he said.
"Because he like any other citizen should have gone through the booze bus like everyone else has to."
Mr Nisbett said Cousins had to learn to be answerable for his off-field behaviour. (ABC Online, 18/02/06)
Hallelujah! I think this man actually gets it! Footballers are bound by the same laws as regular citizens; what's more, as role models they must be ever vigilant to the impact of their actions. (For example, WA's Attorney-General has expressed alarm that Cousins' behaviour may spark copy-cat incidents.) This was followed up with direct and decisive action. I detect something of Trevor Nisbett's hand in Ben Cousins' announcement that he'll surrender the West Coast captaincy. Was he pushed or did he jump? In my view, overpaid prima donnas with a history of selfishness, blame and immaturity don't accept responsibility for their mistakes. I'm betting he was told he was gone either way.
The second West Coast scandal was the relegation of troubled star Michael Gardiner to the B-leagues. This man has been warned time and again for his mysterious "off-field behaviour". This has only ever been alluded to in the media, though it's worth noting he has been linked previously to the same underworld figures with drug connections as his mate Ben Cousins.
There have been persistent rumours over the past two seasons that Gardiner's off-field excesses had led to a fallout with coach John Worsfold.
Worsfold did not mince his words when asked about the fallen star at a press conference following Friday's intraclub match. West Coast was a highly disciplined club, Worsfold said. One player had not met the club's standards. That player was Gardiner and he was being banished to the WAFL. (The Age, 21/02/06)
Seen in light of Cousins' forced stand-down, this suggests that the West Coast Eagles are sick and tired of the shame brought upon their club by a couple of renegade players and are getting serious about cleaning it up. The club's management should be roundly applauded for their efforts in this.
But, with dark mutterings in the media about further drug scandals breaking this year as the new anti-doping protocol comes into effect, it may be that the Weagles are just getting ahead of the pack for what could be a big shake-out in our footballers' more salubrious lifestyle choices.
Twelve months after the above incident, Ben Cousins has been dropped by his club for his drug-related issues. He has headed to the US for rehabilitation. Everyone claimed to see it coming, except his club. If only they saw the signs ...
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