Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Impending Departure of Ben Cousins

With the impending announcement of Ben Cousins' departure from the AFL, the saga that has defined the player's last several years in the professional league has raised interesting points regarding the use of drugs in sport.

Of course, illicit drugs in the sporting arena is not a new phenomenon (e.g. Michael Phelps) and stories even exist where momentous achievements have occurred whilst sports people are experiencing the effects of their drug use. What I have found particularly interesting is the public support that the "redeemed" Cousins has received since the beginning of his tenure at Richmond. There have been numerous reports of die-hard supporters from other teams attending Richmond matches purely to support Cousins and he has also been a regular on radio station Nova, where he has also received a large amount of support.

Since when have Australians shown such ardent support for people who have displayed their indiscretions in the public arena in the way that Cousins has? The harm reduction-AOD sector has for many years benefited from the massive efforts of people who have overcome drug-related problems that far exceed those of the soon-to-be-retired footballer and hardly a peep of recognition has been heard in the mainstream media. More often than not, it is the demonised account of the "junky" preying on the elderly, as was heard on a commercial radio station last week. And what about the efforts of those who are able to manage functional lives whilst continuing to use illicit drugs?

Although not categorised as a traditional sport, maybe we can learn a little something from skateboarding where a certain brand of harm reduction seems to have evolved, even though it may not be recognised as such by those enacting it. A prime example can be found in the Baker Boys Distribution company that was co-founded by former alcohol, cannabis and cocaine user, Andrew Reynolds. Reynolds experienced significant problems with the aforementioned substances in his younger years and eventually made a personal decision to cease all alcohol and illicit substance use, a goal that he has been successful in maintaining. A steady diet of caffeine and nicotine is the only remaining substance use in his life. Interestingly, though, Reynolds' current team couldn't be further from where he has found himself. Team members such as Antwuan Dixon, Lizard King, Bryan Herman and Dustin Dollin continue to partake in all manners of substance use and even new members renowned for their extra-curricular activities have been brought on board by the company owner.

What is Reynolds most interested in? Two things—their skateboarding and how they fit in with the team. When asked by the skateboard media what he thought about the lifestyles of many of his closest friends, he replied, "When I was living like that you know what the first thing I would say to someone who came up to me and said "Stop it!"? Yeah, that's right. So I would rather stick by these guys and if they do reach a point where they need help they know that I've got their back." Sounds like harm reduction to me.

Skateboarders are not the only ones managing the harms derived from their substance use and in the wake of the Ben Cousins frenzy, it might be the right time to change our thinking on the matter.