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Monday, April 30, 2007

Jeff Farmer Facing the Dock

The true colours of Fremantle Docker Jeff Farmer have shone through in another nightclub bashing incident. This time, the club took swift and appropriate action in suspending the troubled footballer. While it's too soon to tell if this signals a genuine turn-around, it will at least help deliver justice for Farmer's alleged victim.

The allegations are yet to be tested in court, but the recurring themes are arrogance, violence, drunkenness and demands for special treatment:

WA police will allege Farmer was approached by a security officer at the [Paramount] club around 11.30pm on Saturday night, after trying to enter the nightclub through an exit door.

Farmer allegedly became aggressive and, as he was removed, attempted to punch the bouncer over some security barriers.

The former Melbourne Demon is then said to have returned, entering the club through the exit door and after being accosted by the security guard who had originally evicted him, punched him in the face.

Several security guards had to restrain Farmer as police were called, who arrested him and laid a charge of common assault.

He was bailed, and will appear in the Perth Magistrate's Court on Thursday. (The Age, 29/4/2007)

It's worth pointing out that Farmer has a history of losing his temper and his inability to control himself has seen him in trouble before:
Despite Farmer's public protestations that he's not a violent person, he is in fact a convicted woman-hitter, serial on-field biff-artist and repeatedly involved in nightclub attacks. He is a bad man.

Whether it was a genuine desire to punish or a self-serving keenness to put some distance between the club and That Other WA Team, the Fremantle Dockers leadership quickly fined Farmer $5,000 and - most importantly - suspended him until at least Round 13. This is the right decision, but sadly, we've been burnt by previous displays of sound judgement.

With this nasty footballer already suspended, it will take pressure off the magistrate on Thursday who may otherwise have been torn by club loyalties or footy tipping. This should give some heart to the assault victim, his family and other Perth bouncers that justice will prevail.

Let's hope that this serves as a model to other clubs in dealing with their violent miscreants.
*** UPDATE ***

Jeff Farmer had his day in court, pleading guilty to assault causing bodily harm and copping a $3,000 fine. Goes to show that sometimes even high-profile super-star footballers can feel the sting of justice for their drunken violence:
FREMANTLE AFL forward Jeff Farmer has been fined $3,000 after pleading guilty to punching a security guard at a Perth nightclub.

Farmer, 29, pleaded guilty in Perth Magistrates Court today to common assault over an incident in inner-city Northbridge on Saturday night.

The court fined him $3,000 for the assault. (Herald-Sun, 3/5/2007)

With any luck, that's his footy career finished; one more thug brought down by his own stupid violence would serve as a potent warning to the next generation of footballers.

*** UPDATE ***

It seems that the club-imposed exile of Jeff Farmer may lapse a little earlier than promised. BigFooty is rife with rumours (sourced to Radio Station SEN) that Farmer will be back before Round 13. If true, this is very disappointing form from Freo.

Thankfully, his criminal sanctions won't be relaxed so readily.

Citations: The Age, 29/4/2007; Herald-Sun, 3/5/2007

*** UPDATE ***

Good ol' Jeff Farmer is back in front of the beak. This time, he allegedly damaged a car in the car park at the Perth's Burswood Casino. He's facing criminal damage charges as a result of the "late night incident" last Wednesday. He's also broken team rules by getting on the piss during rehab and not mentioning the whole drunk/incident/police/charges thing to his club.

Both the Perth Magistrates Court and the Fremantle Dockers are scheduled to excuse him some time in the next couple of days. He's preparing the ground by admitting "an alcohol problem". There's still another news cycle to go, so expect stories about his tireless volunteer work with wayward puppies despite a tragic upbringing.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Breakdown of AFL Discipline Now Complete

The only remaining effective disciplinary power over AFL footballers has been wielded by the league's faux-judiciary. Clubs, police, the courts and the wider public simply have no capacity to moderate the misbehaviour. However, the AFL Tribunal has restricted itself to on-field matters, ensuring a modicum of decency for just a few hours a week. Now, even that tiny window of propriety has broken down, leaving players unchecked to a degree never before seen.

Let's get down to brass tacks: the only thing that keeps players in check is the threat of being banned from taking to the field. All other avenues have been closed off:

  • Clubs and coaches. Ostensibly the players' employer, they are powerless to sanction or ban top players. Mick Malthouse very openly admitted as much during the Tarrant/Johnson affair: "The fact that Chris and Ben are crucial to the on-field success of Collingwood has influenced my decision. Had they been youngsters on the fringe of selection, I might have thought a playing ban was in order."
  • Police. Charged with investigating crime and bringing about prosecutions, some cases have highlighted the incompetence (or worse) of certain detectives when investigating their heroes. Even Victoria's top detective, Assistant Commissioner Simon Overland, couldn't rule out that some police "wouldn't be intimidated or wouldn't have other reasons for perhaps not pursuing allegations against high-profile people as vigorously as they might".
  • Courts. Despite the dozens of charges faced by footballers documented on these pages, footballers end up in diversionary programs, making lame promises to obey the law in future, coping paltry fines, receiving soft sentencing, failing to record convictions - even encouragement for breaking the law! - and just about anything to avoid inconveniencing a player.
  • Public Opinion. They say that shame is the most powerful emotion and is responsible in large part for civilisation. The powerful AFL union and the league have successfully used the courts to prevent players from being named and shamed for their drug test results. Other cases show that, despite the media attention, there is a widespread absence of condemnation from the public and concomitant lack of shame.
  • Sponsors. Commercial realities being as they are, sponsors are reluctant to withdraw their sponsorship in the face of player misbehaviour. Even government officials come out in support of drug-addled disgraces like Ben Cousins.
These systemic failures to address misbehaviour and criminality have seen the players assume themselves (quite rightly) to be untouchable. As a result, the problems have got worse. Perversely, the one person who seems to understand the problem is whipped Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse:

Malthouse said it must be up to the league to make sure clubs do the right thing in dealing with players who have stepped out of line.

He said otherwise, a top-ranked player who misbehaved would always get off too lightly.

"Clubs will make decisions to play those blokes, whereas the AFL hopefully if they won't differentiate between the 44th player and the first player and they will make that decision for the good of the game whereas quite often, let's face it, we make that decision for the good of the club," Malthouse said.

Malthouse reiterated that the AFL had a responsibility to ensure misbehaving players were properly dealt with and the image of the game is protected. (ABC, 12/4/2007)

The AFL as a whole - particularly through its Tribunal - has held the line. But only things that mattered to the league. For example, players betting on matches threatens precious gambling revenue. So that's dealt with. Swearing on telly or criticising umpires gets dealt with. Serious matters like rape, drugs and bashings ... well, they more or less leave that alone. While there are provisions for "bringing the game into disrepute", criminality and other shameful activities don't do that. So how can the league be trusted to "step up" and take responsibility for enforcing player discipline?

The upshot is that the only time that players can be relied on to behave with any decency is for the few hours that they're on the field. Sure, there's a bit of rough-and-tumble and when things get out of hand the Tribunal will fine the players. (Often, the fines for "unduly rough play" are far more than court-imposed fines for dishing out a serious head-kicking in a car park.) The Tribunal also bans players - the one penalty that really bites.

The recent case involving West Coast's Adam Selwood and Fremantle's Des Headland has thrown that out the window. The Tribunal - the last line of defence - is now a toothless tiger.

I won't bore you with the relatively trivial details of the case. Suffice to say that Selwood sledged Headland by reference to the tacky tattoo that adorns Headland's arm. (It is an image of a girl - seemingly aged anywhere from 5-20 - that is in fact Headland's 6 year old daughter.) While there's no consensus on what was said, it involved the implication that Selwood had sex with a girl that looked like/actually was Headland's daughter. Headland viciously attacked Selwood on the field and was cited for the assault. He claimed he was provoked by Selwood's remarks (who was in turn cited for using insulting language.)

The Tribunal's response to this? Let them both off. That's right. Some how, Headland was provoked into violence by Selwood's remarks. Yet Selwood didn't say anything wrong. The media picked up on this inconsistency, and the ramifications spelled out further:
The next time an AFL player whacks an opponent, he can plead provocation and get away with it.

Surely that is the message the AFL tribunal sent on Wednesday night in its strange decision to impose no suspension on Fremantle's Des Headland, despite finding him guilty of striking West Coast's Adam Selwood in an incident that was clearly captured on television.

The tribunal imposed no suspension because of what the three-man jury of former players Emmett Dunne, Wayne Schimmelbusch and Richard Loveridge described as 'exceptional and compelling circumstances'.

That was because Headland believed that Selwood had made inappropriate sexual comments to him in relation to his six-year-old daughter.

Yet earlier in the night the AFL tribunal cleared Selwood of making any such comments.

Talk about having a bit each-way!

Having dismissed the charge against Selwood, the tribunal was then duty-bound to impose the three-match ban Headland was facing for the striking charge on Selwood, having cleared him of a second separate striking charge.

But instead the tribunal decided Headland was right to act the way he did, even though the same three men earlier decided that Selwood had not used insulting language towards Headland. (Sportal, 19/4/2007)

One might explain the bizarre verdict by pointing to the use of judicially-challenged former players for these matters. Still, those three - with their macho view of allowable biffo - can always fall back on a career as magistrates in the Northern Territory!

This failure to sanction an egregious case of assault in the one place where footballers can still expect to be held accountable has wider ramifications for the rest of us. The final obstacle to an unfettered and unchallenged footballing horde has been removed. With no need for player restraint or self-control whatsoever, the spate of crimes against the non-playing public can only increase.

*** UPDATE ***

It appears the AFL may be getting serious about taking responsibility for off-field criminality and misbehaviour. As we've long said, things won't stop deteriorating - yet alone improving - until players know that their off-field behaviour affects their ability to play. Certainly, the AFL is making the right noises:

THE AFL is set to crack down on poor player behaviour and will take over the power to punish footballers for off-field transgressions from the 16 clubs.


The new heavy-handed approach put forward and passed three days ago by the AFL Commission under the guidance of new chairman Mike Fitzpatrick, would change the "conduct unbecoming" rule and increase the AFL's disciplinary powers to fine, suspend and deregister footballers for antisocial and criminal behaviour.

The AFL has lost faith in the clubs penalising players guilty of such behaviour. Although the move will cause concern among some clubs and the players' union, the power to change the rules rests with the AFL.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said last night the move had been largely encouraged by the clubs who recently admitted as a group that they did not believe they were capable of sanctioning the players appropriately. (The Age, 23/4/2007)

Looks good; let's see if the powerful players' union will allow it and they bypass the now-discredited AFL Tribunal. We'll be following this closely.

Citations: ABC, 12/4/2007; Sportal, 19/4/2007; The Age, 23/4/2007

Word Count: 1508

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Open Letter To The AFL's Drug Dealers

I'm not going to lie to you all: this has been a tough month for dealing drugs to AFL players. Once your most loyal customers, with deep pockets and all the time in the world, these men have now gone to ground. Demand has dried up. But it's not all doom and gloom. With a positive attitude, you will soon be able to resume business as usual.

It wasn't meant to be this way. Over the last couple of years, all the spade work you dealers had done getting to know the players had paid off. Friendships were forged. Some of you came to rely on the wise counsel of the players during your darkest hours. And business was booming! Who'd have thought crystal meth would be so popular. This stuff practically sells itself.

You've all had a great run this past ten years. With footy salaries averaging $200,000 a year, there was heaps of cash going spare. There's a limit to how much free-time the X-Box and Playstation can soak up. That's where you guys came in, offering a range of select products to the well-heeled and unscrupulous.

Product was being shipped by the tackle box. Not only that, but the flow-on effect for your business was astounding: every wannabe and hanger-on and impressionable teenager knows that cocaine and success are synonymous. Pills and powders are the secret trappings of wealth and fame. Ice is cool. Pay-per-trip love-boat cruises with whores, $20,000 coke parties with groupies, binges and benders, uppers and downers ... a role-model footballer is reported in the popular press saying that having cocaine snorted from his dick by a beauty queen is a life highlight. Dealing to footy stars is a marketing coup!

Of course, the decision to sell drugs to some big names in footy media was also inspired. Not only would this add to the general buzz about drug-taking ('rat-pack' indeed!), it would also compromise informed and influential opinion-leaders. All of a sudden, it was about "inconspicuous consumption" - with a nod and wink and subtle sniff on leaving the toilets. It's this kind of strategic thinking that sets you guys apart from the street-level dealers that are so rightfully locked-up for their brazen stupidity.

The only storm-cloud on the horizon was the prospect of rigorous drug testing. Thankfully, you guys managed to dodge a very scary bullet. Who'd have imagined the net effect of a powerful union and wishy-washy health academics would be to water down the testing regime to the point of uselessness? Drug dealers everywhere were grateful for that one. Even the threat of players being named and shamed was neutralised by the courts. While drug dealers weren't allowed direct representation during the trial, your interests were well served. What a relief!

Now, the positive results are heading south and look set to disappear entirely. This is not unexpected; after all, the AFL executive, the AFL Players' Association and the players themselves have as much - if not more - to lose from drug positives as the dealers. You guys can always take a paycut and deal to lesser mortals, whereas these professionals are committed to this one sport.

It was all peachy until those bastards at The Sunday Age got stuck in. Yes, I'm talking about Andrew Rule and his incendiary article. To pour petrol on the flames, he followed it up with more scandalous revelations. Poor old Ben Cousins copped it in the neck. What a disaster. It's not just the $3000 a week - a mere blip in the ocean of AFL drug cashflows - but the public scrutiny. No dealer wants to see their high-volume, trend-setting drug consumers in rehab. Or have their private phone calls with favoured customers played on Lateline. With politicians demanding "toughening up" of the policy (it is an election year), there's a serious danger the AFL will react and make some rash changes.

Right now, you guys are hurting. Sure, a few of the regulars are still buying but we hear it's slowed to a trickle. But there's no reason to abandon all hope. There's still plenty to be up-beat about for the AFL's illicit drug suppliers:

  • Fickle attention. While AFL supporters can recall the 1967 Grand Final with amazing accuracy, they have trouble recalling details from last night's news. Three or four more laps of the goldfish bowl and they will have forgotten all about this horrid affair.
  • Systemic changes. There won't be any. It's looking increasingly likely that the AFL will stick to its guns and leave the illicit drug-testing policy exactly how you'd like it - "don't test, don't tell".
  • Changing technology. With talk of masking agents and manuals for "beating the tests" in circulation, player confidence in being able to indulge safely will only increase. Those low testing frequencies and positive rates will only embolden the players and tap unmet demand.
  • Purchasing power. AFL salaries continue to climb - around 10% a year - meaning more cash available for more drugs.
And don't forget, you guys all owe a big thanks to Thorpie for his heroic distraction. God bless him.

I can't say when it will return to business as usual. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe a few months. But not too long. Eddie McGuire, whose expertise in media and football is not to be underestimated, discusses the New World Order and gives advice to players:
"I think there's enough warning signs now that so-called recreational drugs - if they're in it and are part of the party scene, it is now absolutely out of bounds." [McGuire said].


"I think what is going to be interesting now for the players is it's not just keeping it away from mum and dad and the club president and the coach," he said.


"Don't be caught this weekend or any weekend going forward and if you're silly enough to still be on it for God's sake don't do it at the moment because it's going to be the money shot of the century in Australian media and everyone will be out to get it," Maguire [sic] said. (Yahoo!7, 24/3/2007)

Just in case you need a little help reading between the (ahem) "lines", I'll help unpack McGuire's comment for you. Under the old regime keeping drug use away from the club president and the coach was, apparently, less of a concern. It is "now absolutely out of bounds" to take recreational drugs - opening up the possibility that things were a little different earlier. And if you are going to be "silly" and take drugs in the future, just ease up for the time being.

With coded messages like that coming from the top, you, the AFL's drug dealers, have little to worry about in getting through these testing times.

*** UPDATE ***

It seems open letters are now de rigueur: former cocaine user and lawyer Andrew Fraser has popped up with one to the AFL's Andy Demetriou:

Dear Mr Demetriou,

I have two questions for you:

■ When is Ben Cousins to be stripped of his Brownlow Medal?

■ When are the West Coast Eagles to be stripped of their premiership?

I read with amazement that not only is Cousins suspended on full pay but the club is talking about subsidising his rehabilitation and asking the AFL to kick in as well. They cannot be serious. (The Sunday Age, 22/4/2007)

Readers will no doubt remember Andrew Fraser for his recollection of snorting coke with Brownlow Medallists and premiership players. I doubt the AFL CEO will find the message as reassuring and uplifting as the above letter to dealers.

*** UPDATE ***

Another in the AFL Open Letters on Drugs Series, this time from health and law academics praising the AFL for its "3 Strikes" policy. They make it clear that primacy must be given to the players' welfare at the expense of any other public interest.

This kind of black-and-white thinking shows why medical ethics is a poor grounding in questions of public policy - it's fine for individuals but just doesn't scale well to groups. (Imagine if this same blinkered view was applied to, say, drink-drivers?)

The absurdity of getting a heroin addiction expert from Turning Point to endorse strategies for millionaires who take ecstasy infrequently is precisely what deserves to be parodied.

Citations: Yahoo!7, 24/3/2007; The Sunday Age, 22/4/2007

Word Count: 1316

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