Worshipping The Suns May Lead To Drug Use. Or Not.


So a bunch of young blokes did cocaine and went to strip clubs. This usually would not be a new story, but these young blokes are footballers. One of them Harley Bennell, was allegedly photographed in the act two years ago and nobody knew! He is now the face of the AFL’s ineffective drugs policy.

For those wondering Harley Bennell has reported no ill-health effects from drug use, and had 24 touches last week. Failure.

There are calls for the drug users to be named and shamed. Clubs want more power. Older players, journalists, and administrators are calling for a zero-tolerance approach.

The current policy randomly tests players for drugs. You get three strikes. There is the self-reporting “loophole”. Have a night out; admit to the AFL you took illicit drugs, no strikes, just counselling. Players avoid being named and shamed.

This policy is apparently outrageous. One commentator argued that an AFL player is better off doing drugs than drinking alcohol. Health experts might say alcohol is a drug, which is actually worse than most recreational drugs. But what would they know? They’ve never played football at the highest level.

Another argues that this cannot be a “drugs policy” because it is not designed to catch and punish drug addicts. Only an anti-drugs policy is a drugs policy. The point is the AFL is a man’s game and it needs a man’s drug policy.

I’ve never cared if my footballers are doing recreational drugs. Nor have I understood the football community desire for the AFL to achieve the failed aspiration of the war on drugs: a 100% drug-free league.

A footballer is already accountable for his health, by virtue of playing football. Take drugs, they might suck. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They kick a point in a critical game. All right, I appreciate right now that there are football fans and long-suffering partners saying: yes that is the worst thing that could happen.

We do not drug test lawyers, doctors (unless they have a history of drug abuse), bankers, or gardeners. All of these professionals could do you far more harm if they did their job high.

Gardening may not sound dangerous, but do you really want a person alone with your favourite plants, high, armed with shears and power tools? Wall Street Traders, move billions of dollars around. Doctors put stuff inside you, like drugs (the good kind). But god forbid some kid kicking out from full back smoked a joint in March and isn’t named and shamed. Outrage!

There is a reason for the resistance to drug testing in work. Australians take drugs. More than a third have tried cannabis. However, being an AFL footballer is not a “job”, it’s a “privilege”. It’s a privilege with an employment contract. This appears to be “playing in the AFL is super-awesome” so let us drug test you! Fair, but being on The Footy Show is a privilege, being a gardener for the Botanical gardens is a privilege. Our bosses can judge the quality of our work without urine samples.

The other argument is AFL footballers are role models who “kids” look up to. The “think of the children” argument. I prefer to think the children think. Most children by the age of 12 realize sporting acumen and moral worth is unrelated. If they cannot, you’ve failed as a parent. I cannot imagine any child who saw Ben Cousin’s tragic downfall as a reason to experiment with drugs or tattoos. Children are not idiots.

Of course if “role models” is the test for drug testing you have to ask why AFL commentators are not drug tested? Performers on Hi-5? What about the most relevant role models, parents? Nope, just the young guys earning $80,000 a year.

The most un-edifying feature of this debate is old men such as Eddie McGuire volunteering to take drug test. Now, I do agree being Eddie McGuire is a “privilege”, one that Eddie sometimes uses irresponsibly. As Tim Boyle observed “anyone volunteering for recreational drug testing has entirely missed the point of the opposing argument and shouldn't be heard from on the issue.”

I’d be impressed if we had a drug test that revealed every drug you have ever taken in your life. That’d be a blast! We could test every pundit that’s called to lock up all the drug dealers. Every Judge that’s made hyperbolic claims about the effects on drugs. Test every single AFL administrator. Maybe we will find many more faces of an “ineffective” drugs policy.

Until every one of us is held to zero tolerance standard then an AFL policy that nudges players in the direction of clean living, seems fair enough. And if drugs are making the Gold Coast a poor football club, their punishment can be delivered on the field. Drug taking gardeners on the other hand, should not be allowed near fields.

Mathew Kenneally is a stand up comedian who moonlights as a lawyer. He's a regular new Matilda columnist and is the co-author with Toby Halligan of the satirical blog Diary Leaks. He is also the co-founder of the topical comedy room Political Asylum.