In wake of the recent spate of illicit drug related controversies circling the AFL, it has become increasingly evident that top flight players must embrace their role as role models in Australian Society.
The impact of AFL stars reach every corner of our great nation. From the top of Western Australia, to the bottom reaches of Tasmania there are children who idolise Gary Ablett Jr, Buddy Franklin or Nat Fyfe.
Those gifted with the talent and opportunity to play in Australia’s most prolific league are the heroes that stand on a pedestal to be emulated and inspired to.
It is this glorified position in society that makes the example they set more important and damaging than others in their age bracket.
That is why they cannot be caught slipping up and taking part in the same issues that are damaging the fabric of a functioning society.
AFL players need to be trailblazers and pillars that help lead away from dark endeavours.
Recently, illicit drugs have infiltrated the AFL and it is time that the players and the league take a stand and help stop what has become a debilitating social issue in Australia.
Prime Minister Tony Abbot may have taken the first national step with his instalment of the taskforce into ice, but the AFL can help on this journey.
If the AFL and its supermen can be held accountable, it will set a strong precedent for society and youth to follow.
The first step will be stricter rules and punishment of those who make the choice to use, or as seen in the recent Karmichael Hunt example, pedal, illicit drugs.
Presently, the AFL cannot afford to have anything slip under the radar as with the case of former Brownlow Medallist Ben Cousins who is a lifetime addict that became a glorified star.
Cousins was a user since High School and was somehow still able to play, excel and take part in the AFL.
As one of the early 2000’s brightest stars, the West Coast premiership player set a crude example that AFL players can use illicit substances, go unfound and still be great.
That is a taint on the league and an example that must never be followed and aspired to for any youngster, athlete or human.
Dauntingly, Cousins played during the conception of the AFL’s current illicit drugs policy and is proof that the current ‘three-strike’ system is too lenient.
Players like Cousins are left unpunished and unfound for too long with a system that has become dated and easily exploited.
Currently, players find ways to get around sufficient punishment through: self-reporting, insufficient testing and poor documentation.
To help combat exploitation, it has become time to eradicate the three strikes and hold a hard-line with a zero tolerance policy a distinct option.
On the other hand, two strikes with the enforcement of rehabilitation programs after the first strike may be the most humane system, echoing cries for allowing human growth and development, but in the current climate may be forcibly overlooked.
Either way, players and officials are in support of an overhaul with an outcry for AFL players to accept their position as role models or face the repercussions of failing to do so.
“I think the players will be open to some change… the AFL has made steps to show that they are leading the sporting community and team sport mentality with drug testing and so forth but I think from a personal level there are some grey areas that I’d like to clean up,” Essendon midfielder Brendon Goddard said when discussing illicit drugs on the Channel Nine’s Footy Show a couple weeks ago. .
“We’ve got responsibilities, as players we know that. I think as role models we don’t deserve a second chance. If they [players] want to put themselves at risk, they put the footy club at risk, they put their teammates at risk. They’re being quite selfish in doing that so I think some changes are needed.”
Goddard’s sentiments of responsibility and leading the community are echoed by Hawthorn President Andrew Newbold who is adamant that a new, harder-line on drugs must be taken.
“Firstly, we need to consider at least tightening the three-strikes policy or even perhaps considering a zero tolerance to recreational drugs, like we do to performance-enhancing drugs,” Newbold said.
“I think that the three-strikes policy may not be working as well as we hoped it would, albeit we are very supportive of it at Hawthorn in an education-first principle. But I think if you are playing in the AFL you make a choice – you are making a lifestyle choice, you get a lot of benefits from playing in the AFL and I think, therefore, you have to make some sacrifices.
“There can just be no room for the players exploiting the policy and anecdotal evidence, as I said, tends to lead one to think that may just be happening.”
After all, AFL players are in a blessed social, economic and capital circumstance that if they exploit furthers the social epidemic of drug use.
As Newbold and Goddard touched on, AFL players must respect their “lifestyle choice” to be a professional athlete – which means they must be a role model and they cannot take illicit drugs.
The barometer of the line that the AFL will take will be seen soon when the verdict on the Collingwood pair of Lachlan Keeffe and Josh Thomas is handed out.
Accused of taking clenbuterol, a prohibited performance-enhancing agent, it is heavily speculated the two inadvertently ingested the substance which was supposedly laced or mixed within cocaine that they had freely elected to take.
Punishment of the pair will lay down a distinctive precedent on illicit and performance enhancing drug use in the AFL.
Unfortunately for the duo this may mean that they are scapegoated and hung out to dry, in what seems to be a necessary next step in cleaning up the AFL.
However the tough decision must illustrate how AFL players need be held appropriately accountable and be recognised as community leaders that set an example for society,
It is no longer a debate – AFL players are role models and they need to act like it.
Written by Juan Estepa