The West Coast Eagles has parted ways with troubled young star Ben Cousins indefinitely after the notorious party kid failed to attend training yesterday. He was also drug tested after further evidence of his lifestyle came to light on the weekend. His suspension for breaching team rules means he will not be able to play or train with the Eagles or their WAFL club East Fremantle. His club has indicated it is unlikely he'll be able to return for some time as he sorts out personal issues in his life.
In the end, the shock announcement this afternoon (Tuesday, 20th of March) was hardly a shock at all: after the build up of public incidents, bad press and disturbing stories, it was clearly just a matter of time before the Cousins' issues would come to a head. After all, it was just last year that his sidekick and co-conspirator Michael Gardiner threw away his career in spectacular fashion. It seems fitting and appropriate that Ben Cousins - whose flame always shone that bit brighter - would be able to hang on for an extra half season. Certainly Gardiner gave the sincere impression of genuinely not giving a shit about himself or his team, whereas with young Benny Boy it was more a case of "see what I can get away with".
Chief Apologist at the WCE, Dalton Gooding, finally got sick of the excuses and announced the axe had fallen. In the context of the string of public disgraces noted by The Age against Cousins, it seemed inevitable:
- Brawling with Daniel Kerr, sustaining a broken arm (2002).
- Socialising - or worse? - with gangsters involved in drugs and shootings (2005).
- Inexplicably running away from a Booze Bus (2006).
- Arrested over late-night collapse outside Crown Casino (2006).
It happened a little after 2 am on Saturday December 2, when the good Samaritan stopped at a traffic light near the casino and saw a young man standing in the street, "shivering".The exact sequence of events is unclear at this stage: did this story break, then the drugs test was ordered, then the failure to attend training, and then the announcement of suspension? Or did the story directly trigger the suspension, and the announcement and dropping from training happened as a result? These questions get to the heart about how the club has "managed" Cousins' dangerous game.
"I asked him if he was all right and he walked towards the car and I realised it was Ben Cousins," he told The Sunday Age yesterday.
Cousins is renowned for being able to run all day — and a long way at night to avoid a booze bus — but this time the iron man of the midfield could hardly move.Cousins was so "out of it", the social soccer player — and Rules fan — later told friends, that he offered him a lift to get him off the street for fear he would be run over. Cousins waved a $50 note and mumbled that he wanted to go "back to" Eve nightclub, a few hundred metres away, and threw himself into the back seat of the car.
The 30-year-old driver, who does not want to be identified, says he was shocked and concerned at Cousins' distressed condition. "He was sweating and paranoid. He had his hands over his face and was looking around as if he was frightened someone was chasing him. He said someone had hit him — he pulled up his shirt and showed me his stomach. He was jumping all over the back seat. I think I can tell the difference between being drunk and drugs and I'd say he was tripping out bad — his brain was fried on some hard-core stuff, I'd say."
Cousins was aware of his condition and concerned about being recognised, the driver said. "I had a girl with me who didn't recognise him until I said his name and then he said, 'No, no. It's not me!' He stayed in the car about five minutes, talking. I really gave it to him. I said, 'What are you doing, ruining your career, mate?' And he said, 'No drugs, no drugs, I don't want that.' "
The driver took him to the nightclub from where, Cousins had claimed, he had been "chased" earlier. "I don't know if someone really chased him or not," he said. When the driver politely refused his offer of payment, Cousins thrust a $10 note at him, got out and walked unsteadily towards the casino.
That was the last the driver saw of him until a photograph of his famous passenger appeared in the newspapers two days later. Someone had caught Cousins "asleep" on the ground near the casino before the police came and locked him up for four hours. (The Age, 18/3/2007)
This whole ordeal is very sordid. Cousins thought he could have it all. His club tried to protect him for a long time. Then it all unraveled. The only positive to come out of it is that good Samaritan who tried to help out a sporting celebrity in his addled state and then sat on the story for three months.
What a shame the only time Cousins gets frank feedback on his life is when he's out of his gourd. Perhaps if he'd got those messages while be able to grasp and remember them, his career might have ended differently.
After being booted from the team, elements of the media reported that Cousins went on a bender ("partying spree") for several days. More reports circulated that he was in denial about his drug addiction, apparently to crystal meth. These reports of Ben's denial were denied by his father Bryan, opening the possibility that the entire Cousins clan is in denial. Or not. It's hard to make sense from this even without being left drug-addled by a raging ice addiction.
What is certain is that Ben Cousins is now in rehab in Malibu and Eddie McGuire is still giving commentary and advice for reasons best known to himself.
The AFL offered to pay for Cousins to go on a charter flight, presumably so he could withdraw in private. (Sure, with $800K a year you might think he could make his own way to rehabilitation, but then you wouldn't know much about how footy works.) In the end, he went economy class on a commercial flight - upgraded to business class, of course. Can't have a man of his standing mixing with the riff-raff.
While no-one can say for sure what will happen, here's hoping Cousins gets well, apologises and lobbies to reform the AFL drugs policy.
Ben Cousins is back from rehab in the US and has spoken to the public. His carefully-scripted set piece was read from an auto-cue and goes for about one minute. Here's a partial transcript; click the link for the full transcript of his "apology":
As you are aware I have been at an overseas rehabilitation centre for the past month undergoing treatment for a number of personal issues, including illness as the result of substance use.
I would like everyone, if they can, to respect my privacy whilst I continue treatment and meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. (AFL, 4/5/7)
His apology is a little light on details, but then, he has to ensure that he doesn't cause too much scrutiny of his behaviour, or that of his club - or indeed the entire failed AFL drugs policy.
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