24 Mar Concerns for former West Coast Eagles captain Ben Cousins following second arrest – ABC RADIO
MARK COLVIN: The head of a drug rehabilitation centre says a series of public incidents involving the former West Coast Eagles star Ben Cousins has kick-started a national conversation about addiction and mental health.
In the past two weeks Cousins has allegedly been involved in a police pursuit, breached security at Perth’s SAS army barracks and run from police officers after behaving strangely outside a Sikh temple.
Lucy Martin has more.
LUCY MARTIN: Ten years ago, former West Coast captain Ben Cousins was known for his incredible performance on the football field. Today, the headlines speak only of late-night police pursuits and bizarre behaviour.
Cousins, who has struggled with drug addiction, was yesterday arrested in the Perth suburb of Canning Vale after he allegedly parked his car in the middle of a road, behaved strangely in a Sikh temple, ran from police and then climbed onto the roof of a two-storey home.
Earlier this month, the 36-year-old was arrested and charged with reckless driving and failing to stop after he allegedly led police on a late-night pursuit. And in a separate incident three days later, police say they found Mr Cousins wandering the grounds of Perth’s SAS barracks.
Ken Judge played AFL for Hawthorn and Brisbane in the 1980s before moving to coaching roles with the Hawks and the West Coast Eagles.
KEN JUDGE: It’s very sad. He’s obviously going through a very bad time in his life at the moment. I feel for his family, I feel for him. I think some seriously big challenges on his hands before these things get better.
LUCY MARTIN: Judge is well-aware of the pressures faced by retired players.
KEN JUDGE: When I played in the ’80s, we actually worked as well, so football was a thing you did at five o’clock at night or after 5 o’clock ’cause you worked during the day. What’s changed now is that players train all day, so they don’t work.
I mean, on their day off they might do a bit of study or they might do some part-time work in the hours off. But they’re – it’s a fairly large commitment every day during working hours. So, when they finish – I mean, the club does everything it can, the clubs do everything they can to try and direct the players towards life after footy. Some embrace it, some don’t.
LUCY MARTIN: It’s believed Cousins is now in a Perth hospital awaiting a mental health assessment.
Brett Johnson from the AFL Players’ Association says Cousins has the organisation’s full support.
BRETT JOHNSON: We’ve reached out to his family, as well as Ben, as well as the West Coast Eagles Footy Club and attempting to put the support around him to help him get back on track.
LUCY MARTIN: Cousins can access clinical psychologists and potentially financial assistance through the association if he needs it. Mr Johnson says current players are also offered support to help them develop as people, not just athletes.
BRETT JOHNSON: We don’t want to talk about I guess mental health as being about what’s wrong in terms of mental illness. We actually want to focus on what’s right as well and help players not just manage, but thrive.
So we provide a number of programs for current players to help build resilience and then we’ve also got that support at the other end as well if you know they do have a mental illness or need some further support.
LUCY MARTIN: Cousins was drafted to the AFL in 1995 and played with the West Coast Eagles for 11 years. The Brownlow Medallist was sacked in 2007 and banned from playing in the AFL for one year following a long list of indiscretions.
A brief comeback with Richmond was short-lived and Cousins left the game for good at the end of the 2010 season.
Tabitha Corser is the head of Perth addiction clinic Whitehaven. She says Cousins’ experience has started a conversation in the wider community about drug addiction.
TABITHA CORSER: Look, I think it is very confronting for many people because it actually shows what addiction really is about. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, you’re not immune to addiction. And so, what we have seen is this very public downfall which has actually in one way been quite good because it’s creating the dialogue around how do we actually recognise addiction and how do we also help people that are in that place.
LUCY MARTIN: Ms Corser says she’s seen big changes in the way drug and mental health issues are dealt with among players.
TABITHA CORSER: Having worked with clients at the Whitehaven clinic that are current players, they – or current and past, should I say – they definitely have a different level of support and it’s very much recognised much earlier.
People are much more aware of the signs of addiction and there’s a lot of drug testing that’s also involved in AFL. And so, what that does is it creates this space where people can actually say, “Look, I do have a problem and I want to seek help.”
LUCY MARTIN: The AFL Players’ Association says it will continue to offer support to Cousins.
MARK COLVIN: Lucy Martin.