The Essendon Issue: We have shamefully neglected the players in all this.

Another day and yet more allegations being fired back and forth in various forms of media relating to the Essendon situation.

He knew, I told him, we got permission, everything’s OK.

It’s legal, no it isn’t, finals threat, coach is fine.

He’s sacked, they are marginalised, soft tissue, injections and creams.

Doctors contradicting each other, debates about whether hospital approval was better than TGA approval, ASADA said yes, WADA said no.

An interview with Dean Robinson provided staggering allegations and told us nothing that is of any use to solving the situation.

And while this all rolls on, to the equal pleasure and boredom of supporters everywhere, a key and critical group of people are being forgotten and seemingly ignored.

The Almanac pages in recent days have seen great pieces about a side breaking a 49 game winning streak in front of a Premiership reunion crowd, a junior game in the mud at Brighton Beach and various match reports. We’ve read a great comparison of Ablett senior and junior, got a history lesson of the formative years of a player union and heard about the angst of a supporter too nervous to watch his team win a Grand Final

The theme here is the players. The participants in the game itself, those who actually run out on the field and put events during the week behind them and contest the ball, support each other, get hurt and try to win.

This of course happens in every game at every level.

It is the players who have been overlooked in this sorry saga. For me, there are three critical questions to be asked by a player.

First: What substances did I take?

Second: Are those legal, permitted, within codes, or ethical for humans to use?

Three: Are there any medical side effects from taking me these substances?

Despite months of speculation, pages upon pages of comment and claim and assurances from all sides as to their thoughts, those three critical questions that every young player at Essendon wants to know about, cannot be answered with any finality.

If I am a player, I do not know the answers to those questions.

That, in my view, is shameful, and the players have been severely let down in the lack of answers they can be given to these simple and reasonable questions.

Put aside everything else, our responsibility is to the players. The game, as various other correspondents have rightly pointed out, will survive. The finals will proceed. The legal side of this will drag on and get more explosive.

But spare a thought for the innocent participants in this, the actual players themselves. At Essendon at present, there are a large number of young men who despite assurances from their employers and select commentators do not know the answers to those three questions to a suitable level.

These young men, with varying levels of education, life experiences, income, ability and background, were surrounded by revered figures in the game and various scientific and medical experts. “Trust me” they were told. “This will give us an edge” they hear. “Of course it is legal, but keep it quiet” is the motto.

You are 20 years old, fulfilling a boyhood dream, maybe hatched at Brighton Beach or Port Fairy, to play on the G on Anzac Day in front of nearly 100,000 people. Your coach is a legend, his assistant a club champion with recent flags under his belt, the doctor a 30 year veteran and AFL life member and the club one of the most famous in the land.

And a year on, you still don’t know with any certainty what you took, if you should have and what taking it can do to you medically or to your ability to earn an income and ply your trade in the game you love.

Put aside who knew what, who told whom, what was approved, who leaked when.

Ignore issues like will they be cleared, will they lose points, will they play finals, will they be vindicated.

It’s all Yadda Wada Asada.

They might be fine, they might be fined. But they don’t know and they should.

The game has a duty of care to the players. The inability of the game to answer those three critical questions with absolute clarity and certainty, 12 months on, is a disgrace.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Good on ya Sean. And spot on. It’s a disgrace. But then so is the corporatization of Our Great Game. So what did we expect? Life imitates sport. I can’t wait for the Tiges to field a VFL side so I can sit in the stand at Punt Road, in the same seat I occupied – if we got there early enough – when Captain Blood coached the Yellow & Black.

    On the players, so why didn’t they ask? And if they did, what were they told? If they had doubts as to the legality or efficacy of the program they certainly kept it o themselves.

    There’s a lot more to come out of all this yet.

  2. Hang on, I’m confused…

    I thought Essendon’s only duty of care was to the reputation of James Hird?

  3. Can anyone give me a synopsis on last night? Was it just a lot of He said, She said? Was The Weapon covering his bottom?

  4. Dave Nadel says

    Good on you Sean. The most important issue is and always was whether Essendon lived up to its duty of care to its players. Whether Essendon cheated is the second most important issue. The reputations and futures of James Hird, Dean Robinson, Steven Danks and various Essendon officials is very much a third order issue although it seems to be the issue of greatest concern to the media.

    If it turns out (as seems likely) that certain Essendon officials gave their players dangerous and illegal substances without seeking INFORMED consent, then their behaviour is unforgivable. As Sean points out the power and maturity relations between club officials and young players ensured that few players would question the substances being offered, let alone refuse point blank to take them.

    I don’t want any lectures from Doyle on professionalism on this, clubs bullied young players in the semi-professional period as well. Drugs in sport is as old as sport itself. There is literature relating to athletes in the Ancient Olympics ingesting particular herbs to improve their performances. In the nineteenth century, cocaine and caffeine were seen as performance enhancing and eventually became major ingredients in a health drink called Coca Cola although they later removed the cocaine.

    However, whether you blame professionalism, a lack of morality in the club culture* or James Hird’s hubris and sense of entitlement, what is undeniable is that clubs have a responsibility to young players under their control – whether those players are amateurs or professionals receiving $500,000 p.a. and Essendon appears to have violated their duty of care.

    *I couldn’t resist mentioning Essendon’s culture. Essendon has always had a strong middle class Protestant ethic and was associated with Business, Presbyterianism and Freemasonry. Even in the days of Coleman Essendon were seen as quiet achievers rather than a celebrity club. It always saw itself superior to the louder cultures of working class Catholic clubs like Richmond and Collingwood, or high profile clubs full of politicians and criminals like Carlton. Its members would have even considered Upper Class Melbourne as being unnecessarily showy.

  5. Mark Doyle says

    Nadel, I am bemused by your supercilious and arrogant attitude. This Essendon Football Club supplements saga is a media ‘beat-up’. It is nothing more than a trivial and irrelevant issue. It is also nonsense to suggest that the players have been neglected. No player has been denied natural justice. If the ASADA ‘nanny state do-gooders’ are successful with their witch-hunt, the club and players may be punished in a similar way to the civil courts imposing a ‘slap on the wrist’ penalty for using a recreational drug.

  6. James Hird, Paul Little and Mark Doyle all on the same side!! This is a story that just keeps on giving.
    Bring me my knitting and roll out the tumbrel.

  7. Mark Doyle, I’ll make you a Toby Ziegler bet – all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets – that Essendon is @#*%ed!

  8. Stan the Man says

    That just about makes David Zaharakis Captain material for next year….if they are in the competition. Guilty on the drigs issue : dont know – probably not…Guilty on the “bringing the game into disrepute…well maybe now thats different ??? A very sad state of affairs.

  9. I agree that natural justice has not been denied, and I also why the coverage could be seen as a media beat up.

    The side-show in all of this has been the behaviour of journalists whom I believe have occassioanlly been compromised and have taken sides. It was awkward but fascinating to watch ex players now special comments men being forced to pass judgement on their idols and ex teammates last night and in recent weeks, and with few execptions, have been not brave enough to say what they feel.

    However, it is far from trivial. A sdie may or may not have cheated, that is not trivial. A club may have abused its duty of care to players and injected them with illegal substances. Not trivial. A side may risk exclusion from the finals. Not irrelevant for sponsors, supporters, players TV etc

    If this was a team of Chinese swimmers or Bulgarian wrestlers, we’d have all made our mind up and strung them up by now.

    The media coverage may be exhausting, and the allegations confusing. But the issue is far from irrelevant or trivial, no way

    Buy shares in a Legal firms, they will be the only ones doing well out of all this.


  10. For the most part the football media have been cowards with a mortgage.

  11. Dave Nadel says

    Sorry Mr Doyle, encouraging an employee to inject substances without advising the employee that the substance may be illegal and/or dangerous and may affect his health and/or cause him to be banned from his employment is unethical and in most circumstances illegal. There is little doubt that this happened at Essendon. That is not a beat-up. The media feeding frenzy over who was actually responsible has elements of a beat up. But ethically Essendon Football Club is in the same position as Hancock Enterprises and James Hardie and all the other mining and building firms who exposed their employees to asbestos.

    At the risk of drawing some more of your poison, Comrade Doyle, I wonder why you feel the need to abuse everyone with whom you disagree. It just discourages the rest of us from taking you seriously, which is unfortunate because occasionally you actually have worthwhile contributions to make.

  12. Mark

    I picture you petting a bald cat on your lap as you formulate your invective. Am I far off?

    On Essendon’s players? I don’t know? The part of me that hates Essendon – that’s the much much bigger part of me! – hopes they injudiciously and foolhardily placed their faith in their superiors and chiefs. If that’s the case, their naivety is no excuse. If however they questioned what must have seemed like an irregular practice (and if you’re a fit and healthy young man being repeatedly injected with something, how could you not?), than maybe they have a case to state they were duped and misled. Personally, my fierce hatred of all things Essendon hopes it’s the former.

  13. David Wilson says

    So many vested interests in this quagmire.
    So many conflicts of interest in the reporting and propoganda-pushing.
    Happy to sit tight and wait for the judgement of those deemed fit to judge.

    On the matter of players and duties of care afforded them, the union has been conspicuously absent from thie conversation (or have I missed it?). Surely this is union bread & butter.

    David Zaharakis has emerged with his reputation enhanced. His is the example that teachers & parents would do well to point out. Know right from wrong. Have the courage to separate yourself from the herd (Hird?). Choose to act appropriately. Make that choice. His choices & actions should be applauded.

  14. I am bemused at the sudden beatification of St David of Zaharakis. McVeigh made it pretty clear in the panel discussion that he didn’t take it because he didn’t like needles, not that he didn’t like what was in them.
    Sort of like having an RDO when the command to fire came through. Lucky yes, but hardly noble or saintly.

  15. e.regnans says

    Ahh, PB, grand.
    I didn’t see any of the Barnum & Darcy circus last night.
    So I was regrettably commenting on the comments.
    If our man DZ there is also of the spiritless zombie persuasion, let us not beatify him.
    But I guess we can still point to a (apparently hypothetical) True and Virtuous Ideal of being aware of principles and then acting upon them.
    Beach boys harmonies now swirling “wouldn’t it be nice…?”

  16. Steve Baker says

    Cookie, I’m still waiting for Red Foo to appear on the panel. An absolute slaughter by 7. And Luke Darcy being given the task of chatting with The Weapon was like getting a cleaner at DFAT to come up with an asylum seeker policy.

  17. Hey Sean

    My hatred of all things Essendon put to the side for the moment, I couldn;t agree more that a) Hird, Thomson, Essendon and b) the investigators and the AFL have all failed miserably in there duty of care to the players. Putting young impressionble men in a position like this and then letting this drag out for so long is a disgrace. To put yourself in these young mens shoes, It must be terribly troubing to think you may have been injected with banned substance just to start with. But to then have to wait as long as we have to get a confirmation is just plain unforgivble. Have to say I have sympathy for the players and their familys. Must be a tremendously difficult time for them

  18. Rick Kane says

    Things I took from last night’s Inside Man interview:

    1. Panel subtly discredited Robinson while giving Hird tacit support. At same time audience phone poll supports Robinson’s story. General view on SEN today by football commentators was that there wasn’t much more revealed than was already in the public domain. Really? Nothing I’ve read has quite demonstrated the intense animosity between parties involved than the interview and Essendon’s press release did. I’d say the pot is boiling and about to explode.
    2. Every commentator agrees that Essendon has done something seriously wrong and yet in the same breath they exclaim as if they are bringing tablets down from the mountain that there has been no evidence of any illegal activity to date. So what had Essendon done wrong? Well, we’re about to find out. Hold on, it’s going to get bumpy.
    3. There’s no way you can say the word outrageous out loud without giving its meaning expression.


  19. Steve Baker says

    Dear Sean, T Bone.

    Its a pity that your views on this aren’t taken into consideration when there’s calls to strip Jobe Watson of his Brownlow from sections of the footy public.

  20. Steve

    I must admit that despite my complete sympathy for the players, I stand in that part of the footy public.

    Sadly, if there’s proof that something was taken that was illegal, then the rules are that regardless of whether the player knew or not, then he’s guilty, and I’d say by extension, he’d lose the right to hold the highest individual honour.

    I wrote a piece recently, more about the fact that our feelings about Jobe ignored the facts and focused on his character, which I don’t think has been questioned, nor should it until we know more.

    But, sadly, the players who may have taken/been given these substances (take your pick) if (and it is still just an if) they are against the rules, then we are in for a hell of a difficult situation.

    I’d hate to see it happen, but rules are rules.

    In fact, this looms as an enormous test for the league, caught between wanting to keep the brand squeaky clean, and do deals that doesn’t hurt big names. I’d argue that their fines and suspensions over the Melb tanking issue showed they were gutless, the Tippet affair was badly managed and the league want to do deals instead of taking a big stick and incurring the warth of fans and worse, immense legal battles. Taking the Brownlow off Watson, if it came to that, will be like shooting Bambi. Will big Andrew have the guts?


  21. Lets just wait and see i am sick of the media i will never read a newspaper again its all about selling papers, it is a media frenzy. PS It will end up in court.


  22. I’m interested in the approach Dave Nadel has re comparing Essendon to large corporations who exposed their employees to unsafe working conditions. If we look at the Victorian OH&S Act 2004, Essendon by their virtue of employing persons under contracts of employment/training, would meet the definition of being an employer. Surely they then would be required as per S21 of the Act, ‘Duties of employers to employees’, to provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, in particular clause 21e re providing information, instruction, training or supervision to employees. If by using substances that are not meant for human consumption, with possibly dangerous side efects, have they failed to meet these requirements as an employer ?


  23. So let me see if I’ve got this straight…? In one corner, Hird has employed the services of a Human Rights QC, Julian Burnside. In the other corner, he has the Liberal Party Spin Doctor, Ian Hanke, the man who ‘spun’ Children Overboard.

  24. daniel flesch says

    Yes , Litza , Hird has hired a top brief and a smart spin doctor . That’s what people do when they’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. I suspect he’s just scared of you.

  25. Pamela Sherpa says

    Shamefully neglected the players in all this ? Are you serious Sean? This whole inquiry is all about getting to the bottom of what has gone on with the players and Essendon and the players and club are co-operating with it and are to be commended for doing so. As if Essendon or any club would set out out to intentionally harm their own players. Would there be so much hysteria if the players were taking powdered supplements or pills instead of injections ? Why do we not get hysterical about pain killing injections on game days?

    The hysteria surrounding this has been ridiculous. The media are more intent on claiming a victim than providing balanced reports.
    As for expecting black and white answers. I don’t believe we can ever expect this with drugs. For example the safety of some cancer drugs and children’s immunizations and the long term side affects are still being debated in some circles.

    To those criticising James Hird. I think it is a wise move to hire experts to help him in this simply because of the sheer volume of work involved. He, like everyone else involved has the right to protect himself , his family and his livelihood.

  26. Pamela

    I understand what you are saying and agree with you on some points (below), but can’t accept that the players haven’t been neglected.

    The fact that the club is working with ASADA and that the inquiry is occurring is not proof that the players are being looked after; in fact I think it is the opposite. The mere fact that we need a long investigation such as this to see if the players took something that was illegal is exactly why the players are being neglected or more correctly, were, by the club. If they did nothing wrong (which still may be the outcome) it’s taken a long time to get what should have been a simple answer. What did you take? Is it legal, yes/no, case closed.

    I agree though that it isn’t black and white. If it was, this woudl be over much sooner. “Did you take an anti obesity drug? Let’s check the WADA code, yes on no. If yes, suspended. If not, clear to play, nothing to see here”. The fact it is taking a while points to some high level confusion with these agencies in my mind.

    As to pain killers, I completely agree and in fact wrote a piece last year that argued that they ‘enhanced ‘ performance but we don’t get excited about them. Why not?

    Has the media gone AWOL from their senses? Perhaps and there’s some aspects of this which are hysterical.

    Hird is circling the wagons, fair enough, he has worked for years to create his reputation, so it seems fair he’d do what he can to protect it. Classic spin management though, to shoot and discredit the messenger. Even if you support him hiring high class support and spin, would you at least agree it smells a bit?

    I can’t come at your sugegstion though that there’s no way the club would intentionally harm their players. I think by their actions, whether through ignorance or arrogance, they have though.


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