Ben Cousins was yesterday taken to hospital for a second mental health assessment in as many weeks.
The one-time winner of the AFL’s highest individual award, the Brownlow Medal, was caught by police after being chased on foot through the Perth suburb of Canning Vale.
Police came for Cousins after he’d been seen and caught on CCTV behaving strangely outside a Sikh temple.
“He was not looking stable. He was taking photos everywhere,” Sikh priest Jasvinder Singh, who lives at the temple with his wife, told Fairfax Media.
CCTV footage shows Cousins driving erratically in his car, stopping, starting and reversing. Singh said Cousins was taking photographs of the temple.
Police arrived at the scene and later footage showed Cousins standing with officers before making an attempt to sprint away on foot.
He was caught after the chase through several Canning Vale backyards which at one stage involved him climbing onto a roof.
He was taken to Armidale Hospital for a mental health assessment. Just over a week previously, Cousins had been assessed at a different mental health facility after being caught climbing the fence at the SAS Campbell barracks.
That came just days after he was charged with reckless driving, failing to stop and failing to agree to a breath test following a low-speed chase in Mosman Park.
The Cousins saga is not a circus anymore, if it ever was. It almost certainly wasn’t ever for his family and friends since nearly 10 years ago when his drug addiction became a daily habit.
For starters, it’s not any ordinary sportsman in the spotlight. While the Brownlow Medal was the individual highlight of his career, he started it in 1996 as the AFL’s Rising Star. Between 1998 and 2006, he made the AFL All-Australian team six times, won West Coast’s best and fairest award four times, spent five years as Eagles captain and won a premiership with the side in 2006.
Since he left them, he’s been arrested at least half-a-dozen times, and faced charges ranging from traffic offences to prohibited drug possession.
He’s attended rehab and mental health facilities at various stages, starting with his most public stint at a celebrity clinic in Malibu, which ended with him fleeing and ending up in hospital after an alleged cocaine binge in 2007.
“My skin itched. I couldn’t sleep,” he wrote in his autobiography, recounting how his dad Bryan drove him to a dealer’s house because he couldn’t bear to see his son suffering.
“Thoughts chased each other around in my head. I was a wreck,” Cousins wrote. “Every minute I thought about drugs.”
He’s lost friends to drug overdoses, most notably former West Coast Eagles champion Chris Mainwaring. Cousins visited Mainwaring twice on the night of his death. A crime squad report found that Mainwaring overdosed on a large quantity of cocaine.
In 2012, a source at one hospital where Cousins was being treated said Cousins had “never been clean for more than three months”.
And while the AFL works hard to maintain its image of cracking down on performance-enhancing drug use, the problem of recreational drug use is looming ever larger. Here’s an easily compiled list of recent “troubles”:
- Cousins’ mate and former Eagles rookie Ben Sharp was last month arrested and charged over an armed robbery ring allegedly motivated by ice. Almost $290,000 was stolen at gunpoint from an armoured vehicle.
- Another Perth young gun and former Hawthorn recruit Dayle Garlett, admitted in November that meth addiction was behind a string of burglaries he committed to feed his habit.
- Former high-profile Gold Coast Suns recruit Karmichael Hunt returned to rugby, the Queensland Reds and “a long road back” this week after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
The list goes on and on, but it’s also looking more and more like an entrenched habit that’s present in all grades.
Eagles champion Dean Cox last year publicly stated that he suspected at least 10 Eagles players were experimenting with drugs at the same time Cousins’ career was collapsing.
And just yesterday, Victorian police said that even at grassroots level, there was evidence of coaches supplying ice to players to boost performance. Incredible.
It’s easy to focus on Cousins and tempting to take a bemused “what’s that crazy Ben Cousins up to now” view of his antics. But there’s a depressing sense that it’s only all going to end one way, especially amongst those who can’t forget what an awe-inspiring athlete he was on the field, whether you were with him or against him.
The bigger picture is rapidly becoming almost too dark to contemplate. In the past, there was no shortage of heartwrenching life after football tales, but back then, the champions lost all their dough gambling, boozing or in dodgy investment schemes.
Unfortunately with ice, it doesn’t end when you run out of money. It turns into a situation where you’ll do anything to get the money to buy more ice.
And the methamphetamine scourge is dragging everyone in – legends with more money than they know what to do with, rising stars with it all in front of them, and now even local clubs trying to fire up for the big cross-town clash.
Obviously, it’s not that not all sport suddenly looks like a bad career choice, not by a long shot. But the old association with boozing and the odd steroid cheat is slowly giving way to increasing instances of heavy “recreational” drug use, addiction and crime.
Managing it should now be the top priority of every code.
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