If a football fan was asked whether a six-time All Australian, premiership-winning Brownlow Medallist was worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame, I think we all know what the answer would be.
However, if I was to tell you the same football fan that the player was Ben Cousins, there is a good chance that they might change their mind.
Cousins debuted at 17 for the West Coast Eagles in 1996, where he went on to play 238 games for the club, kicking 205 goals in the process, as well as receiving all the previously mentioned awards among others. He then played 32 games for Richmond before retiring from the game in 2010.
At this point, everything seems cut and dry for Cousins to be a Hall of Fame inductee, but as most fans would tell you, it isn’t that simple.
Cousins had a ‘party lifestyle’, to put a generic term on what mostly involved drinking and using recreational drugs, sometimes with other West Coast players.
While it wasn’t properly identified that Cousins had a substance abuse problem until 2007, Cousins had his captaincy stripped due to fleeing a booze bus in 2006. In 2010, a documentary came out after his retirement, revealing that he had a drug problem well before this point.
Things would only get worse for Cousins. After his mandatory break from the AFL in 2007 to attend rehab, he had his car searched in the October of the same year and was arrested for drug possession and refusing to give a blood test. He was sacked by the Eagles the following day.
This article won’t discuss Cousins’ life after football for the same reason it won’t discuss his life before it. It isn’t relevant when looking at a player’s football career to determine Hall of Fame eligibility.
Ben Cousins should be a Hall of Fame inductee – his playing career demands it.
Mike Sheahan, one of the sport’s greatest journalists, has Cousins in his top 50 players to have ever played the game. Not only are the rest of the players on the list inductees, but there are a lot more besides which one can unequivocally say Cousins was better than.
In terms of being a role model, an argument many people try to use against him, it shouldn’t be a requirement for being considered. They are football players, not politicians.
Also, the AFL has had no problem inducting Gary Ablett Senior, a man who also used illegal drugs. What about Barry Hall? He punched a man in the jaw without provocation and was recently sacked from his radio station for an inappropriate comment. It’s difficult to call either of these players role models.
In terms of cheating, Cousins never failed a drug test so it could easily be argued that he was never gaining an illegal advantage during games. Besides, the drugs that Cousins was taking have very little in the way of performance enhancement; they would have just as much chance of hurting his performances.
It really goes back to the original question: if you were to ask a fan if a player with Cousins’ credentials should be in the Hall of Fame, the answer is yes.