There’s a story I tell my kids before they go on school camp. A large herd of wildebeest are running from a pride of lions.
One wildebeest says to another, “I hope we can outrun those lions!” To which the other says, “I just hope I can outrun you.”
The lesson is: have fun but don’t be the one that carries it on too far and gets caught. Don’t be the slowest wildebeest…
I reckon that there are a lot of slow wildebeest in the NRL ranks right now.
You could be forgiven for thinking that cocaine use is rife among the players in the NRL, such has been number getting in hot water in relation to the use or possession of Colombian marching powder.
There are so many it is hard not to think that they aren’t just the tip of the iceberg.
With all due respect to my esteemed colleagues, they are totally missing the point.
This isn’t a matter of morality, role modelling or legality. It’s a matter of performance.
Cocaine is unequivocally a performance-wrecking drug. These party boys are letting their fans down because taking cocaine is without question very bad for your body, your brain and – as a result – for your performance.
As a devoted supporter of my club I expect that anyone that plays for my team is doing everything they can to be in the best possible physical and mental state each and every match day. They each get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, so that isn’t an unreasonable expectation.
I expect them to be dedicated trainers, deeply committed to bonding with and supporting their teammates, as well as being really sensible in their lifestyle choices.
For a rugby league player to be performing at their best they sure as hell can’t be using cocaine.
While cocaine is definitively an illegal substance, its level of use and acceptance within our society – especially among the moneyed classes – is high. Often intelligent and useful people consider its prohibition an annoying technicality.
I’m sure lots of users among the NRL ranks don’t really think they are doing anything that bad when they are snorting lines off a bloke’s phone in an alleyway, or off a toilet cistern in a harbour-side pub. So they get slack. They become slow wildebeest. They get busted.
The cold hard facts are that only one player in 20 has a first grade career that lasts over ten seasons.
Conversely a supporter is for life. They are there when the player arrives and they’ll be there when the player leaves. They effectively own the club and the players are just temporary custodians of the jerseys.
For me it is very simple. After years of my Raiders putting up with poor behaviour from star players only to have it repeated again and again, a line in the sand was drawn. Now if you’re part of the Green Machine you’d better tow the line.
While Josh Papalii’s drunk driving episode shows that the club is still not perfect, it has improved out of sight since the departure of Todd Carney, Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan. Many of the supporters, including myself, continually made excuses for these players in the hope that they could keep playing for us regardless of their poor behaviour.
We now realise a zero dickhead policy is actually far better in the long term.
The players should know that no matter how good the sycophants they’ve surrounded themselves with say they are, they are just another player. They are not essential. They can – and they will – be replaced, especially if they snort coke.
You wouldn’t hire a heavy drinker for a job that involved being bright and fresh in the mornings. You wouldn’t hire a bloke who ate Maccas four times a day to work in a health food store. You wouldn’t hire a smoker as your personal trainer.
So why do people think it is OK to do cocaine if they play professional sport when it is proven to effect the body and mind quite detrimentally?
In regards to physical performance cocaine has the following effects.
It affects the nasal passage in ways that can make it difficult to breath easily, something an elite sportsperson needs to do.
It causes liver damage. Your liver cleanses your blood. An elite sportsperson needs good blood.
It severely messes with your circulatory system. Cocaine use tightens blood vessels. This deprives the heart of its normal blood supply. The user is then at risk of a heart attack or arrhythmia. It also leads to a major boost in blood pressure. An elite sportsperson needs excellent aerobic capacity and cocaine clearly damages it.
It overloads your brain. Regular use can lead to weakness in the arteries in the brain. This can result in aneurysms and haemorrhages. Even the dopiest footballer needs their brain.
It damages your heart. A build-up of cholesterol in the walls of arteries is a common side effect. This can result in sudden heart attack. It does happen to people in their 20s too.
However, as bad as all these are, the most common side effect is the worst: mental illness.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Any drug that causes feelings of euphoria consequently dumps the user in the depths.
Feelings of elation on Saturday night are suddenly feelings of desolation, isolation, and self-loathing a few days later.
A few years ago I rejected the offer of hard drugs from an acquaintance on the basis of needing to look after my mental state, that I wasn’t prepared to risk my psychological well being with the inevitable come down.
“You mean suicide Tuesday?” She replied matter of factly…
I couldn’t believe they had a name for it.
Yet they still wanted the high badly enough to endure it.
Suicide is no laughing matter. Recently we’ve had a number of sportsmen tragically take their own lives. I should stress that there has been no link to drugs that I know of – but I still wonder whether it was a contributor.
Cocaine use can easily destroy a rugby league player’s morale, mental resilience and focus. These are essential elements for success.
A player who is bottoming out after cocaine use can be highly irritable and unbalanced. Twice in my working life I’ve been subjected to the revolting behaviour of superiors at work whose predilection for cocaine use meant that they could be downright unreasonable, nasty and horrible to work with. It made coming to work miserable.
Football players who use are more than capable of doing the same thing at their club, and when they do their behaviour will eat at the essential morale and cohesion of the side.
Professional sports people using cocaine is akin to running a Maserati on E10 petrol after hitting the on board computer a few times with a hammer.
It is just stupid.
I love footy and I’m desperately looking forward to this weekend’s games. There are some cracking match ups on offer.
But every time I notice a player putting in a sub-par performance I’ll be wondering whether it’s because they’ve been using.
So take note all you NRL players: you can do as much coke as you want when you retire, but right now you work for us – the fans – and if we find out that you are snorting away our chances there will be hell to pay.