Send Lawyers, Drugs and Money – the Eagles hit the fan

Normally when Docker David Zampatti gives me and my Eagles a whack, I try to return serve with interest.  The Daniel Kerr arrest has given him plenty of opportunity (eg “the Eagles don’t have team photos – they have a group mug shot”).   But my hands are tied.  He’s right.

I work four days a week on the streets of Fremantle (resist temptation for cheap shot) helping people with mental illness and drug/alcohol problems (they generally go hand in glove – mental illness self-medicated in the short term, while substances create their own vortex of self-delusion).  The damage is horrendous and it ripples out from the individual to family members, crime, victims and wasted lives.

My Eagles have much to regret about how they (failed to) ‘manage’ players and its culture in the mid-2000’s.  It has comprehensively cleaned up its act with the current player group, but the aftershocks continue.

We all know the Ben Cousins fall from grace – and there are no signs that the decline has been halted.  Outstanding footballers in Adam Hunter and Daniel Kerr have also faced criminal charges for serious offences directly or indirectly linked to life-destroying drugs.  The term “recreational” drugs is relevant only to the first few years of use before the money runs out, and the destructive consequences mount up.

How does a footballer who retired 2 years ago and must have earned $4 million across his career, fail to find one friend/family member willing to stump up $5,000 for bail?  There can only be one credible answer, but it will be a while before the magistrate confirms the tune.

It sticks in my craw that my club turned a blind eye to the obvious mess unfolding before them in the mid-2000’s.  The platitudes are trotted out – “I called him into my office and asked him if he was doing drugs but he denied it.  What could I do?”  Gifted players were given enormous licence because they produced on the field.  Wilful blindness in pursuit of on-field success.

The rogue alpha male in Cousins was given licence – and that behaviour set the tone for a handful of others.  Six years after the club moved to begin defusing the minefield, the indestructible bravado buried in the attitudes of players is still exploding.

“We got the best medical advice,” is a flimsy excuse.  Substance abuse and addiction are specialist fields, but real treatment takes years out of the careers of prime assets.

There are many platitudes offered (“he’ll always be a part of our family”), but in reality every club’s duty of care ends the day players retire.  They are free to live their lives and use their unusual riches as they please.  Many make a good transition, but others are one-dimensional warriors ill-equipped for the complexities of real relationships, life choices and viable businesses.

Here’s my proposal – 25% of a player’s earnings for their most recent 5 seasons – goes into a trust fund managed by each club.  That is $2.5million per annum at the current $10million salary cap.  Over 5 years each club would have $12.5million in trust for their retired players (+ more for active players).  It would be conservatively managed like low-risk superannuation funds, and only be released to players 5 years after their retirement.

My thoughts are that it would have 2 main benefits:

  • An insurance policy for the players who do not make wise life and business decisions immediately after retirement.
  • It ties ex-players to a formal relationship with their club in the 5 years after retirement. I would use it as a stick and carrot to require involvement in formal life/business coaching in each of those 5 years. Each year you don’t meaningfully participate in the individualised review/training process – the trustees would defer release of funds for a further year. 360° reviews are common for industry employees on $200k+ pa – why not footballers? The process need not be onerous for players making a success of their post-footy lives. A couple of days each year over a 5 year transition. Those who have identified weaknesses would be offered coaching/mentoring for business and life – in the same way that they received it for their goal kicking in the sporting phase of their career.

All of us value our independence, so some will see this as paternalism.  But it is time that someone stood up for the longer term best interests of players.  None of us can tell who will be vulnerable when given enough dollars and freedom to hang yourself.  We all think we can handle it, until the rear vision mirror of life tells us that we couldn’t.

The ‘strong’ (if you could really identify them in advance) lose a little autonomy for 5 years – but they are already wealthy compared to their school peers, and with all the networking advantages that sporting celebrity brings.  How much can waiting 5 years for maybe 15% of total career earnings (allowing 10 year careers with higher earnings in later years) really hurt?  It’s just buying insurance.

This is only a concept outline.  The fine tuning would take a lot greater knowledge than I have.  How do you handle low earning rookies with only short careers?  Do the Goddard’s and Griffin’s transferring in late career just roll-over their current balance to the new club fund, as with superannuation?  Current players would probably need to be ‘grandfathered in’ progressively (eg 5; 10; 15%…) to allow for existing commitments.

There could be a role for the AFLPA as fund trustees, and in delivery/design of post career programs.  But individual club culture and belonging, beyond a playing career, seems the best foundation for successful transition programs.

Player managers would hate it, because it diminishes their control and remuneration base.  But I would argue that they reflect player’s short term and not long term interests.  Telling a star player that he is behaving like a dill is harder for a manager than a club.

No transition planning can prevent bad luck, bad judgement and the vicissitudes of life.  But in Daniel Kerr’s case he might now be busted –  not bust.

Any thoughts?


  1. Great article, Peter.

  2. I think you’re spot-on Mr B. For once. One thing that comes to mind, however, is the complexity of it. We all know the household name players, but the Footy caper’s a bit like racing – many are tried but few get into the big prize money. What about those who haven’t been, for whatever reason, prepared for what life deals up?

    I can think of a Richmond player of the 1990s. He was a first round draft pick in his year and after showing promise at Tigerland – he headed their Brownlow vote count one year – he transferred to The Eagles. He didn’t break into the side and came back to Victoria where he finished up with North Melbourne, playing mainly in their VFL reserve side, where he won the Gardiner Medal. He had a final year back at Punt Road before being de-listed. The next time I saw his name was in the Court Listings. I can’t remember the charge, but it wasn’t some petty criminality, it was a deliberate act to gain significant financial advantage at the expense of others.

    The question is – how does a fund operated by financial managers deal with this player’s life problems before they become major community issues?

    Two questions actually – for a journeyman of this nature, which club takes responsibility for guiding this evidently troubled young man through the turbulent years of early manhood?

  3. You should have stuck with the saints,poor form to change teams.

  4. PB, this is a huge issue. And a great piece.
    Congratulations on your proposal. It’s a constructive idea.
    I think “Duty of care” is an appropriate legal phrase.
    Does it end when the player retires?
    Should it?
    Are there precedents in other industries where employees are owed Duty of Care after retiring?
    I can think of retrospective damages cases being fought when a former employee sues their employer for wrongful whatever. But a progressive Duty of Care function exercised after employment ends… I’m interested to learn whether such a thing already exists.
    Good one, e.r.

  5. G’day Peter,

    You mention us huge issues on the footy world and I feel sad to see the dark side. Well said.

    I remember one day Jeff Kennett was interviewed on 1116 SEN and revealed that he got depressed after he had been out of office at the Victorian Premier. Then I can imagine how former footy stars feel after the retirements. They need support, I think.

    However it does not mean current and former players can be addicted to illegal drugs or gambling. It’s really sad to hear that some players like Ben Cousins and Brendan Fevola spent a lot of money earned by playing AFL footy for such bad habits.

    Mental issues are so big in the society and productive therapy should be offered to footy players too.

    I hope circumstances will improve and your beloved Eagles will farewell to bad behaviours soon.



  6. Great idea Peter.
    This is something that should definitely be looked at.
    I was stunned Kerr didn’t have $5-grand to get out of the lock-up.
    Most people I know could cover that.
    Interesting too that the club didn’t put up the money either.
    It is not the club’s fault that players stuff up, but that was mean spirited…
    Think about all the fighters who blow their money then have to keep fighting way beyond their prime – Ali, Tyson, Holyfield to name a few.
    Footballers are no different – when the money is gone, a lot of them can’t reinvent themselves.
    There is always a book though…
    Daniel Kerr could write a book.
    That might help him in the short term, but it is obvious he needs long term help.
    And that’s where your idea could work.

  7. American Pro Sport has been studied a lot more than our sport, because it is BIG business. There are a lot of reasons players fail in making the transition from pro sport to real life. To be fair our sports culture seems to do it better than the US, but it is still a big problem for us. The reasons for the failures are multiple and mutually reinforcing – one weakness to compensate for another. Lack of emotional maturity; big egoes; one-dimensional understanding of life and achievements; drugs, booze and gambling; hangers-on and yes-men; lack of formal education and broader life experience.
    Looking at US articles, two things struck me – 78% of NFL players and 60% of NBA players are bankrupt within 5 years (on much bigger salaries than ours – maybe because of that – as one article said “how do you tell a young man with $3M in the bank that he can’t go on spending $30,000 a week after retirement?”)
    The other was a former player who said:
    “there is an expiration date on the body. And when it comes, you’ll be judged from the neck up.”

  8. Nutritious food for thought, Peter. I wonder how it might work for the average player with an AFL career length of 2.5 years or whatever it currently is. I also wonder if clubs would be best placed to administer such a system. As organisations their drivers are fairly clear – win games, win premierships. If we ask them to do something that does not directly contribute to that we can probably expect them to do it poorly. Particularly given some clubs’ shoddy recent records as it relates to discharging their duty of care towards players. Perhaps something best done by the AFL, players association or a third party with that as its sole remit.

  9. Peter,
    Yours is certainly a worthwhile proposal, but I would be very wary about letting the clubs administer the trust funds. It maybe better if City Hall was responsible.
    Like most, I was amazed that Kerr could not stump up $5K for his bail.

  10. daniel flesch says

    Great idea Peter , just bloody hard to implement .Part duty of care and part the paternalism you acknowledge. And potentially complicated .It could happen , but not for a good while , if the time to resolve Peptide-gate is any guide. Side issue , but yes – strange that Kerr didn’t have the $$ to bail himself. Stranger still , though – i think i read Dean Cox and a couple of other Eagles “couldn’t come up with ” it either. With friends like those ….

  11. Peter, an imaginative solution, not only for those ex-footballers who find themselves lost without club-imposed discipline in their lives, but also to those who have fallen victim to poor money management or investment decisions. There seems to be a long tradition of that, and a history of “benefit” or “testimonial” events to aid retired greats who have lost it all to “poor investments”, even before players’ wages grew to their current levels.

    I like your superannuation analogy, and it’s a good template, a relic of bold policy-making that no-one in politics seems capable of pursuing nowadays. Australia is very fortunate to have such a scheme, which is basically enforced individual saving to reduce the risk that someone else (in that case, the taxpayer) will have to bail you out down the track. Like superannuation, you could give players some choice on where it’s invested (eg. in a Growth fund, a Balanced one or a Conservative fund; a choice of a few different fund managers); the point is that the balance is ‘preserved’ (ie. you’re restricted from being able to withdraw it).

    Of course, some players have their heads on quite well are actually informed investors. When a mutual friend once introduced me to Dean Cox and mentioned that I was a banker, Coxy immediately wanted to talk stocks and asked me whether the ASX All Ords had finished the day above 4900 (it was very embarrassing, because I didn’t have a clue!). Similarly, I heard a good anecdote locally here about ex-Fed Chair Ben Bernanke being shown into the Washington Nationals rooms at the baseball, and players (each being guys that earn several million) confronting him with questions about his monetary policy! So whilst those guys can all go into Peter’s scheme too, just that their “superannuation” fund should give them some investment options.

Leave a Comment