Ben Cousins needs a friend
BEN Cousins still drinks. I discovered this in Fred Pawle’s excellent piece on the AFL’s favourite recreational drug user in this month’s GQ magazine. I also learned that the Louis Vuitton drawstring (tracksuit) pants he wore in the photo shoot cost $1460, but I won’t get into that except to say footballers have changed.
It would not be such a revelation that Cousins still enjoys the odd beer had he not spent the slabs of his career heading out for a quiet drink after the game, only to emerge four days later on the front of The West Australian in the same jeans, white thongs and Elwood t-shirt. In his final season at West Coast, he was spending more time with bikies than at training.
We’ve been led to believe Cousins’ transformation from druggie to role model is complete, but Pawle’s article proves he has a long way to go. When asked if he still has a drink, Cousins’ reply was sheepish. “Yeah…I have to be careful with that sort of stuff,” he said.
“It always starts with drinking, doesn’t it?” Pawle asked. “It can do, but I’m on a pretty strict regime,” Cousins replied. “I can’t afford to slip up, and enjoying the occasional drink is something I look forward to. It’s all in moderation.”
If I was the president of Richmond Football Club I’d be very worried, because Cousins doesn’t do moderation. In large part it’s not his fault – his addiction is far beyond that of the good-time guy who’s the last one standing on a Friday night. At its peak his binges were life-threatening, suggesting a predisposition to substance abuse that was there well before the Cousins brand bought him free entry to Perth nightclubs and all the powdered extras that go with it.
Astonishingly Cousins, who has just finished making a documentary about his battle with drug addiction, does not seem to put booze in the same category even though, like the vast majority of addicts, his problem started with drinking. You don’t have to be a drug and alcohol counsellor to realise that an amphetamine habit begins with the need to keep your head together when you drink so you can be around for the fun of more drinking.
Surely there must be somebody in this guy’s life who’s able to point out that a middy of light is too much when you’re Ben Cousins. He’s not the only elite sportsman in denial about his behaviour on the syrup. Former Test cricketer Andrew Symonds is the only person left in Australia who thinks he doesn’t have a problem and that getting himself spastic at every opportunity just makes him, well, social.
Symonds’ performance on 60 Minutes some months back was cringeworthy. He explained, with total conviction, that the culture of cricket had changed and he had failed to keep up, but he wasn’t an alcoholic. He was just a binge drinker – although it’s hard to explain the difference to people when you’re putting Monday and Tuesday nights back to back.
For Roy, it was everybody else’s problem. It always is.
Pawle’s piece gets to the heart of Cousins’ addiction and reveals a young man who has at least reflected on the weaknesses in his character, even if he hasn’t defeated them.
“My life is in excess. I do everything in excess. I’m an extremist of the highest order. They’re the very qualities that have made me very good at what I do, football-wise. Take them away from me, you take away the qualities that make me very good at playing football. It’s just about harnessing them in other areas so I can still get the best out my self without losing it.”
It’s a thoughtful comment from a 30-year-old whose ripped abs have until now been his major contribution to public life. Cousins’ comeback to top-level footy has been remarkable given most of us expected to see him begging for change or in jail only two or three years ago, and for that he deserves enormous credit.
It’s a question of whether enough is being done to support those athletes who overcome addiction but remain in a culture where failing to throw back “just the one” after a game is seen as a snub to your teammates. But as Cousins learned the hard way at West Coast, when the cash dries up and you’re finding out what happened last night by reading the front page, real mates can be hard to find.
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