HAVING heard the AFL and its constituents speak about drugs recently you may feel as if this sporting body is our last defence against a wave of drug battery and abuse. Thankfully they have red flags, key factors, warning signs, distress signals, problem-solvers, issue summits, welfare, private investigators, police informants, intervention protocols and, did I mention, a profound opposition to substance abuse?
There will never be a definitive position on drug use, illicit or otherwise, and the reason is simple: it’s not possible for a thinking person to take seriously a law that claims to protect a person from his or her own choices.
As such, no one has the right to speak in a broad stroke about drug use, or imply that drug taking in any form leads, inexorably, to a poorer life.
Although you won’t hear this message directly from the AFL, you will get a type of drug-speak that is bent towards the benefit of the speaker’s image. The AFL always yokes its desire for control and brand protection to the noble gesture of players’ well-being. They want to facilitate, warn against, moderate, alleviate, stipulate, expiate.
When someone is lecturing on a subject, it behooves the listener to understand the lecturer’s motivation and particularly his or her experience. It is a bizarre circumstance in which some members of the AFL find themselves stridently speaking against drug use, without ever having to explain their experience with it, or be queried about their motivations.
Why would the AFL Players Association support an invasion of its members’ privacy in such a way? After all, it did help to facilitate and introduce this policy.
Simply, it is not the habit of most athletes to use drugs, for the same reasons it is not their habit to eat doughnuts, or stay awake to watch the sunrise. The circumstances under which illicit drugs are generally used are atypical of an athlete’s and the players agreed to the policy because mostly they don’t use drugs, don’t care if they’re tested and, in some cases, are probably happy to expose people they consider as inferior – that is, drug takers.
The AFL claims to be strong in educating its players and, in my experience, generally this is true. But if I am being educated, I don’t want to be told that I need help if I am inclined to enjoy a particular substance. I’d prefer to hear from a speaker who used that substance and was surprised by the outcome.
There is a sterile and conservative undercurrent to the AFL’s drug rhetoric that is at odds with its ambition to be progressive in almost everything. As Craig Fry wrote this week in The Conversation, it is statistically false to suggest that a person testing positive for an illicit drug is likely to be mentally ill, or require counselling. It’s at this point of return that the AFL’s drug-speak stutters and reaches the boundaries of legitimacy.
“We have to ask ourselves,” Fry wrote, “what real value is there in publicly framing drug use as a pathology needing medical treatment and cure, while the private experience couldn’t be more different in most cases?”
Fry’s point is an important one. Where there is a genuine affiliation between drug use and mental illness, the AFLPA’s policy is in waiting, ready and willing at the service of the players. The rest is politics and should be spoken of in those terms.
Ostensibly, it is good enough to discourage a young person from the use of what may be a harmful substance. But it is misplaced and elitist for a sporting body, such as the AFL, to be always suggesting that drug use is affiliated with struggle, or otherwise afflicted people. There are several problems with random drug testing in workplaces where public safety is not at risk, such as in the AFL. The most obvious is that drug testing measures exposure, not impairment. So the thing being tested is a person’s choices, not necessarily the effect it’s having on their performance.
The AFL adopts the language of impairment permanently because it prefers to disassociate with unmarketable people. If it used this language instead of the language of welfare, it would be hard to disagree with it, and easier to listen to.
It’s been revealed this week that some recruiters are following kids on Facebook, liaising with police and privately investigating a kid’s associations. This is an ugly admission and bares all the effects of paranoia.
The AFL should stick to promoting its highly marketable and legitimate, testing of performance-enhancing drugs and take a deep breath elsewhere.
Jeff Kennett voiced a popular idea last week when he said that “playing football is an honour”, and that taking drugs should deny footballers access to their profession. What happened to welfare?
There is honour in creating an environment that allows people to come to their decisions personally – what is honourable comes thereafter.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.