Entitlement, Anger, Denial – Cheats and Apologists

Now that justice to clean sportspeople everywhere, and particularly AFL footballers has been done, there are still implausible, utterly unfathomable recalcitrants.

First – the Deniers.

• The Essendon 34. They are all convicted drug cheats – fair and square. A long time ago each individual should have decided to stop letting other people speak for them. More so than ever they need to do so now, own it and get on with it – leave denial behind. They lied repeatedly to ASADA when asked if they had been taking supplements. There was no leadership whatsoever. If Jobe Watson truly believed they were not drug cheats he would have said when asked by the ASADA testers if he had been taking any supplements – “Yes, our group is on a program – you will need to speak to the club to get the details but it is all legal.” I appreciate there was peer group pressure and no small amount of hero worship preventing him from telling the truth, instead of lying and saying “No”, but it was most pre-eminently his responsibility to say exactly this. Had he or any of his colleagues done so none of this would be happening now. Watson’s development as a late blooming elite footballer follows the exact pattern of late blooming drug cheats in all sports. He is a drug cheat and his Brownlow is unfairly won.

• James Hird – Implausibly, but perhaps not surprisingly, he still can’t see reality. Justice is always miscarried it seems. Which single individual was it that did for the players and the Essendon Football Club.

Second – The Implausible Apologists

• Gillon McLachlan. What will it take for the AFL to climb down off their high horse. The players were at fault. No ifs, buts, or maybes. Why try and perpetuate the myth that this can be otherwise. That Watson could somehow hold onto his Brownlow would be a replication of every failure the AFL has had throughout the sorry saga.

• Paul Marsh. There are around 700 AFL players. 34 of them were found to be drug cheats and he thinks those players have no responsibility for that – furthermore he wants to pull out of drug testing altogether. How can that be in the best interests of the other ~670 players. The lawyers behind the players union decided that a common front by the players would be their best defense. It seems to me this would be the exact approach you would take if you were trying to conceal guilt. If you had nothing to hide, why the relentlessly legalistic approach? Paul Marsh has presided over terrible advice to this group of players.

My thoughts are that any attempt at legal action by any player against Essendon or the AFL would be bound to fail. Much has been made of the contention that the WADA program is not suited to team sports but this is a nonsense. The players willingly took the drugs. Their motivations, the same as the motivation of any other drug cheat was that it would bring them individual and team success. Whatever it takes. They had ample opportunity in different forums, to tell the truth. If there is a target for player legal action probably it should be the AFLPA and their lawyers.

And please – can no-one ever again write – ‘The victims in all of this are the players.” However they were led to it, they were all complicit drug cheats.



  1. Neil, sadly, you’re right. I say “sadly” because I think the whole situation reflects the problems of modern sport.

    And in a wider context; with democracy and freedom comes responsibility. The players must go, Jobe must lose the medal, and Essendon people must stop looking around for someone else to legally clobber.

  2. Bob Morrow says


  3. Spot on Neil, I agree with what you’ve written. It’s been an almost non stop parade of apologists and deniers who refuse to accept the evidence and seem to be living in a fantasy land.
    What has been most disappointing is the number of people calling the players victims.
    Sorry, but the evidence has shown that the players didn’t perform their due diligence before allowing themselves to be repeatedly injected, out of sight and governance of the club doctor.
    Not only this, but not one of the players, when asked by ASADA testers at random drug testing, mentioned that they were taking any supplements and indeed, it seems there was a concerted effeminate by the players to keep this information hidden.
    The punishment fits the crime. Ask any Olympian who has been denied their moment of triumph due to being beaten by someone who is later discovered to have been using performance enhancing drugs at the time? (Jarred Tallent anyone? )
    I have sympathy for the supporters who have been let down by the club, complicit officials and players, and even the players who choose not to be involved with the program.
    Apart from that, the players and officials need to stop spitting the dummy, accept their punishments and get on with their lives.
    Rant over.

  4. Good, succinct rant Neil.

    AFL players I’ve seen interviewed (such as Nick Maxwell) on how they conduct(ed) themselves apropos supplements, food etc are EXTREMELY careful to the point of being obsessive about what they put into their bodies. So I remain gobsmacked the Essendon players took whatever they did in a manner that must have seemed high risk, notwithstanding the snake oil salesmen who persuaded them. They knowingly chose to fly too close to the sun – I also wonder as to how they will fare in a civil court in terms of contributory negligence.

  5. Glen Potter says

    Thanks for this, Neil. A good rant.
    I was incensed by Paul Marsh’s outlandish comments. I’m sure he thinks we’re all idiots. As he finished, I really hoped for a player, or players, not in the ’34’, to speak out about how they don’t want to compete against drug cheats, and were thankful this saga had exposed them. Where’s the alternate view from the remaining 670 in the AFLPA?

  6. Peter Flynn says

    Paul Marsh needs to ‘get with it’ quick-smart. Bizarre stance and response.

    Lots of factors at play here.

    ‘Hird’ mentality/Insularity/Team ‘culture’/Shambolic governance/Sycophantic cheer-leading sections of the media/AFL brand protection and insecurity etc etc.

    If this result stands, I can’t see how any of those 12 players can ever play (or would want to play) for Essendon again.

    Well distilled Neil. Hope to catch you for a beer soon.

  7. Well said Neil. However I reckon the complicit media, apart from a small number, should figure also as Implausible Apologists.

  8. Kevin Collum says

    The only decent unbiased article that I have read in four years about these cheats. They all new what they were doing and sadly they still don’t get it. They have all tried to blame everyone else for their stupidity. If the players and club had told the truth from the start this matter would have concluded years ago. Good luck with any further legal action and I hope you all have deep wallets. I believe Hird’s legal bill is already nearly 2 million. The AFL and the AFLPA have both been a huge disappointment with their so called handling of this matter. Thankfully organisations such as WADA exist to make these people accountable.

  9. David Zampatti says

    Every few years I re-read Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” and think about the most recent examples of her thesis that ruling groups will often act against their own interests despite clear evidence that the course they undertake is bound to fail disastrously, and despite cogent warnings from their peers that this disaster will happen (the Cassandra phenomenon).
    Now where did I leave it…

  10. I see the new Essendon chairman, Lindsay Tanner, has slammed the year-long ban on the players as ‘manifestly unfair’. Others may agree with this. Perhaps it is manifestly unfair to clean athletes that the ban is only for one year and not longer.

    Wonder how many millions (tens of millions?) the AFL will now tip into a fund to help Essendon cope with the inevitable lawsuits which will arise if the affected parties are not paid off beforehand. Why can’t Essendon, a genuine great and powerful club, clean up its own mess? Putting out the begging bowl will only diminish it further, if that’s possible.

    Rant over.

    Cheers, Burkie

  11. Andrew Weiss says

    What I do not understand out of all of this is that so many people are saying that they feel sorry for the players. Is this because there are 34 players involved in this situation. Whenever a single player gets suspended for taking a illegal drug (Ryan Crowley and Ahmed Saad as examples) most people say that they are responsible for what happen and need to be more careful. Why is it different when 34 players are caught doing the wrong thing.

  12. Neil Belford says

    Yep – No-one is passing the hat around for Crowls are they. No club has seen a better servant than him, and he has owned it and taken it all on the chin. Career over (unless he plays as a fill in at Essendon).

    And I agree the list of Implausible apologists is very long. Actually the hardest part I found writing this was in taking out things that were obviously true, but might nonetheless cop a lawsuit. But Rick – on the subject of a complicit media…

    In every other case, except perhaps the early days of Lance Armstrong (where apologists abounded), when athletes are exposed as drug cheats, the media turns into a sanctimonious lynch mob. Not here. Not our AFL buddy pack.

    Carolyn Wilson turns out to be the only true journalist amongst the pack of acolytes, lap dogs, and fan boys who pose as free press. She has reported the issue on the basis of the available facts from day 1. How about Rohan Connolly trying to shut David Koch down??? True colors I suppose.

    I thought I had started going a little mad, but obviously the groundswell out here amongst the great unwashed almanackers is for truth, justice, and DRUG FREE SPORT. Perhaps we could adopt the Mockingjay salute at games next year as a symbol of support for the WADA decision. That could be fun. I wonder if channel seven would turn their cameras away.

  13. Reckon there is one thing all sides of this debate might be able to agree on. I am nominating David Zaharakis for Australian of the Year. Anyone with that fine-tuned a nose to smell a rat is something every Australian should aspire to. “I don’t like needles” indeed. Or snake oil salesman be they masquerading as “coach” or “scientist”.

  14. I’m a tad perplexed at the level of sympathy going to the players. Sure the fish rots from the head down and James Hird has stunk for ages. The players had been educated/informed/advised of the anti-doping rules, and their liability. If the players were told not to tell the investigators they were using this substance, because it was a banned substance, there can be minimal sympathy. Do they now use the Nuremberg defence ?

    Who is Gillon McLachaln to lambast WADA re not being an appropriate body to investigate team sports. Hold back on the false indignation, because of the AFL had have been fair dinkum about punishing those involved in this cheating they could have taken more stringent action previously, instead of the fanfare and what seemed like an attempt to absolve Essendon of their cations. If the AFL had have been more thorough , WADA would not have been required.

    Unless those involved in this behaviour, drug cheating, are properly punished what message are we sending to the future generations of sports persons? I Watch the fallout from here as the cracks that have been covered over in Essendon’s attempt to present a unified position, splinters. We live in interesting times.


  15. No sympathy.
    I cant even name all 34 players.
    The saga won’t be forgotten but the names of many players will be unless they chose to drag it on for a few more years. Its only a one season ban. Take the hit, shut up and retire or return next year fit and fired up. Its simplistic I know, but simple works.

    We are all beasts of emotion but the collective hugging going on at the moment is nauseating and should be reserved for true tragedy.
    Its events like this that we see the worst of AFL reporting. Even the reporters that occasionally shine are missing.

    Were Fremantle and the Saints allowed to top up from the Rookie list when their boys were suspended?

  16. When will we hear a comment form any of the unaffected Essendon players ont eh current list? i’d be MIGHTY pissed off to join the club, only to see that most of my team mates were also rans etc., nad that if all goes according to plan I may paly in a winning team once this year. Will they line up to sue the AFL/Essendon too? Wll the GayFL management make allowance (or better still, pay them off) before they become too vocal? The whole sorry saga demosntrates just how ****ed the whole GayFL edifice is – time for (God help me for even thinking it!) a Packer etc. to formulate a new league, and get rid of the shite that poses as the ‘custodians’ of the great game I love (and once was able to understand).

  17. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Are Dank and Hird really,Sergeant Scultz I no nothing from Hogans Heroes and Fonzy from Happy Days
    can’t say the word wrong.Just so disgusted and angry the what ever it takes fc have done to our game and the incompetence of the afl as governing body

  18. Neil, all very well said.

    On the players, I am slightly more sympathetic to some of them, but I make a distinction between the senior and younger players. I’ve always felt that a young 18 year-old draftee would be desperate to impress and would do whatever Hird & Co told him, but the senior players should have known better, and were in fact obligated to stand up and ask the questions on behalf of the younger players. Like being part of a… what would you call it… “leadership group”. No sympathy for Watson whatsoever, and the Brownlow has to go. That said, the point about lying to ASADA at drug tests is damning for all of them.

    Your comments re McLachlan & Co are spot on also. The AFL has long since ceased to be a genuine sporting competition, and instead become a scripted TV series, in which we are all taken for mugs. The lengths they have gone to in “protecting the brand”, concealing the truth, attempting to white wash, and falsely engineering the competitiveness of a drawcard team when it’s been caught cheating… And don’t get me started on the way they have resisted Hal Hunter’s efforts in court to find out what he was injected with, even going after him for costs. Beyond despicable.

    They are unworthy of our support, government grants or their privileged tax-free status. They need not so much as a new broom as a new bulldozer, and should start by replacing the whole Commission.

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