The AFL obviously needs to uphold its standards and guidelines when it comes to players and officials messing with illicit drugs, however it seems there is much more that both clubs and the AFL could do to help those affected.
The latest AFL personality to succumb to drugs, Tom Liberatore from the Western Bulldogs, received his first ‘strike’ after being found passed out in possession of illicit substances. As part of Liberatore’s punishment, he has been removed from the club for the remainder of the season and asked to find employment, seek counselling and cough up a $5000 fine.
In a similar case, ex-Hawk Travis Tuck was found unconscious in possession of a party drug known as GHB, resulting in him being hospitalised. Tuck had received two previous strikes, and as a result of the third strike, was removed from the AFL.
Most notably, West Coast premiership captain Ben Cousins was arrested for possession and refusing to submit to a blood test. Cousins was banned from senior football for twelve months and distanced from anything related to football. Eventually, Cousins used football as a way to keep his mind off drugs and made a return to football thanks to the Richmond Football Club.
Just from looking over a brief summary of Liberatore’s mishap, you can instantly detect that something’s not right. Essentially, Tom Liberatore is being punished for needing help.
The biggest issue with the punishment handed down is the distancing from the club. It’s fair to say that Tom will be seeking support from those closest to him, and many of those people would be involved with the football club. Rather than forcing him to seek employment elsewhere, couldn’t the club offer him a position where he’s away from playing football but is still in controlled environment with those closest to him?
It seems the AFL is interested in a ‘quick fix’ when it comes to players and drugs, but to sweep the issue under the rug and give the offenders the flick is not the right answer.
To tell these people, who obviously are in need of help, to go away and get things right while giving them a slap on the wrist is almost insulting. Ben Cousins is a great example of football being a positive distraction from drugs; if football could help Cousins, surely it could be used to help those that are currently seeking help?
Rather than keeping the spotlight away from the issue, the AFL needs to highlight this and shape a new illicit substances plan around the positives that can come from using AFL as a gateway to getting clean. If someone is dealing with a drug-related issue, distancing them from their passion isn’t going to help them progress in their recovery.
There’s plenty more that the AFL and football clubs can do for those struggling with addiction. For the sake of those affected, a new system needs to be created to better benefit those in need of assistance.