In recent weeks, media commentary on the use of illicit drugs by professional sports players has again exploded.
The first cause was the recently retired Australian rules football star and recovering drug addict Ben Cousin’s documentary Such is Life: The Troubled Times of Ben Cousins. It aired on Channel 7 on August 25 and 26.
The second was the overdose on GBH of Travis Tuck, a player for Australian Football League club Hawthorn, on August 27. Tuck became the first AFL player to be sanctioned under the code’s “three strikes” rule, having previously failed two drug tests. He suspended for 12 weeks.
Under AFL rules, a players is only sanctioned the third time they fail a drug test. Until then, the name of players testing positive to banned substances remains confidential. Only their club doctor is informed after the second failed test in order to allow for counselling and treatment.
Tuck, who has not played in the senior Hawthorn team all season, has been receiving treatment for clinical depression. The main effect of Tuck’s suspension has been a new round of calls for toughening the “three strikes” rule. Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett has led the charge to demand clubs be told whenever one of their players fails a test.
Given the high level of leaks from AFL clubs, this essentially means making it public.
Many voices, including the AFL Players’ Association, have opposed this push, pointing out this would only shame the player involved. If they had a drug problem, it could seriously endanger their health.
This is true, but all commentary has ignored the question: why does the AFL have the right to test for use of recreational drugs deemed illegal that are not performance enhancing, and mete out punishment for those caught?
Regardless of opinions about whether drug prohibition is a good policy, the AFL are not the police force and neither are football clubs - they are employers of professional sports players.
The double-standards involved were revealed when Cousins was hospitalised in July after an overdose. As he overdosed on legally proscribed sleeping pills, the only concern was for his health. Had he overdosed on an illegal substance, he would have been banned from the game once more and faced police charges.
Should bosses in general be allowed to drug test their workforce for drug use? Many people would rightly see this as invasion of privacy and an unfair regulation of a worker’s private life. Yet the approach to recreational drug use by professional sports players pushes in this direction.
North Melbourne player Drew Petrie, in an August 25 RealFooty.com.au http://www.theage.com.au/afl/ opinion piece, explicitly raised this: “I completely support drug testing for players, but it does sometimes make you wonder why it is only players and athletes who are tested and so heavily scrutinised.”
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