Watching Jobe Watson lead Essendon’s comeback last night, you couldn’t question his courage. But if you don’t think he’s in real trouble, you’re fooling yourself.
I was as surprised as anyone when Watson confirmed on On The Couch on Monday night that he’d been injected with AOD-9604 last year.
Until then, everyone at Essendon had thrown the line out every week that they were waiting for the investigation into Essendon’s 2012 supplement program to be wrapped up.
Suddenly their captain was confirming his involvement on national television.
I’ve only ever met Jobe in passing, but everything I hear is so positive. He’s seen to be strong in his opinions and to have a strongly considered approach in what he does for the club.
Given this, I agree with what Bob Murphy said on AFL 360 on Tuesday: Surely Watson’s admission must have been carefully thought through. It wasn’t something blurted out.
Watson also said he doesn’t feel he’s done anything wrong. Plenty of football people, from Essendon and elsewhere, have supported this statement.
James Hird said this week that he thinks Watson’s Brownlow Medal is safe, and they can’t wait to give their side of the story.
Words as strong as that imply there’s game-changing information we don’t yet know about.
But unless it is game-changing, Essendon may well be kidding themselves. The World Anti-Doping Agency has confirmed that AOD-9604 is banned now, and was banned last year.
In the light of this story, a lot of football attention has centred on whether Watson should be stripped of his Brownlow Medal.
Honestly, if he’s taking a banned substance in the year he wins it, the question hardly needs to be asked.
The policy on that is the same right around the world.
Everyone brings up cycling in relation to drugs: if a Tour de France winner is found to have doped they’re stripped of the title.
Athletics has stripped Olympic medals, world championships, world records.
Basically, if you have any kind of title and you’ve taken a banned substance then you don’t deserve that title.
What makes AFL any different?
I don’t believe that Watson intentionally did anything wrong. The admissions he made on Monday were doubtless the same as he’d made to the ASADA investigation.
But given the heat it would bring, it makes me wonder what his motivation was for making it public.
My guess is that it’s to make it clearly known that he went through the right channels to tick off his use of the substance.
You know in a footy club that anything you want to put into your system has to be passed by club medical staff.
If they give you the all-clear, you take their word for it, and that all-clear should mean they have taken it to ASADA for approval.
I’m conflicted about this. I keep going back in my mind to why Essendon players had to sign a document in the first place.
Having been in the AFL system for so long, I still can’t get my head around having to do that just for a supplement.
We had the odd vitamin injection if we were crook in the middle of winter, then got on with things.
As captain you’d have regular meetings with your players, then sit down with relevant staff. Anything different would be discussed, and an unusual medical process definitely would have been.
On the other hand, you do put faith in your doctor and your sports science department. You trust people in their roles.
This is where I’m trying to break down what Watson actually said. To my understanding, he said he signed the consent form to be administered the drug, after club doctors had told him it was legitimate to use.
This is why he’s saying he did nothing wrong, because he had no intention to. But if Watson did nothing wrong, and was also administered a banned substance, then obviously there have been massive failings from other people along the line.
AFL Players’ Association boss Matt Finnis thinks so.
“While players have a responsibility in relation to their part of this process, culpability must reside with those who had the ultimate authority,” was his take.
And yet, however much it might be someone else’s mistake, you come back to the rulings we’ve seen in world athletics, cycling, and any number of other sports: that doesn’t matter.
WADA chief John Fahey confirmed that whatever is in your system is your responsibility. As adults we live and die by the decisions we make. If your mistakes are based on bad advice, you need better advice.
Of course, I’m very much aware that the investigation may change things. We won’t know anything for sure until those results come out.
But what Jobe has said so far clearly suggests the club is the source of his trouble. And maybe this is the context of his TV admission.
Watson may already have accepted that he and some teammates will cop a drug-related sanction, but you could understand wanting to first make it public that they were misled.
Whatever happens, the whole case is a real shame.
The player we saw last night, fighting to stay on his feet after giving everything in the last desperate minutes against West Coast, showed commitment, courage, fair play and leadership.
These are all characteristics of a Brownlow medallist, and no-one can ever take those away from him.
But with the way his case looks now, regardless of how any of it has come about, it’ll be much harder to hold onto the medal.