AFL: Former Brownlow medalist Ben Cousins is admitted to hospital after an incident in Perth
UTTERED even once, “tragedy” runs the risk of becoming a word used far too often in sport.
Losses, retirements, injuries. They can be debilitating, they can crush dreams and they can cause immense pain. But so rarely are they tragic.
The case of Ben Cousins is one instance where, unfortunately, tragic is the word that sums up all too accurately just how far he’s fallen.
The 37-year-old was once a glittering star in the footy world. An AFL Rising Star winner. A Brownlow Medallist. A club captain. A premiership winner.
A midfielder with run and skills so few in the game could match.
But that all seems like a lifetime ago.
Cousins was taken to hospital by police on Sunday night after an incident on the Canning Highway in Western Australia. He was reportedly on the middle of the road directing traffic, while at one point he tried to throw a motorbike rider off his vehicle.
A drug addict with mental health issues, Cousins is so far from the man the football community once cheered on with gusto.
‘IT REALLY BREAKS MY HEART’
BANNED from playing AFL for 12 months after being arrested for drug possession then sacked by the West Coast Eagles in late 2007, the midfielder found a home with Richmond when the Tigers recruited him in the 2008 pre-season draft.
He only played 35 games in the black and gold, but his former teammates at Punt Road — like defender Alex Rance — are still affected by his continued problems.
“It really breaks my heart to see a real champion of the game, who could be such a positive role model, even now, even after so much has gone wrong for him,” Rance told the AFL Exchange podcast.
“I just feel for his family, and really close friends who care for him.
“I just hope he can get better and find a bit of peace in his life.”
Veteran broadcaster and commentator Bruce McAvaney was another to lament Cousins’ fall from grace, expressing his sadness at seeing the former star’s current state.
“Like every other commentator, I’ve come into contact with Ben over the years and he’s always been delightful company one-on-one. He’s engaging,” McAvaney was quoted as saying by Yahoo News.
“It’s been incredibly sad and frustrating in a way to see him in such a position that he’s in.
“I just hope he can get the right help. I’m sure that’s been offered to him over the years.
“He has serious problems that go way beyond football that are not unique because a lot of other Australians are in a similar position, but we seemed to know him so well and he had the world at his feet.”
He knows a quick fix isn’t remotely on the cards for Cousins given the challenges he’s faced, and continues to face, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people out there who would do anything to change that.
“To be truthful, if you could have a wish you would click your fingers and Ben would be his old self again, but I realise that his problems are complex and challenging,” he said.
“It’s going to be very, very hard for him to beat them and we hope he can, but he’s going to need a lot of help.”
‘I FEEL SORRY FOR THE FAMILY’
KARL Langdon knows all about being a footy idol in Western Australia. He played 100 games for the Eagles between 1988 and 1995, winning a premiership in 1992 and thrice representing the WA team in what were — in the 1990s — annual State of Origin series.
He called time on his career just before the 1996 season — the same year Cousins announced himself on the AFL scene by winning the Rising Star award.
Langdon knows Cousins’ father Bryan, and has been involved in trying to get the wayward star’s life back on track. Now a media personality, the 48-year-old gave an insight into the issues Cousins has been facing, including those that haven’t made the headlines.
“We, and when I say we, I’ve had personal contact with his father and a few other influential people around Perth to try and help in any way, shape or form… they’ve been obviously trying to get him into some certain circumstances where he’s taken off the street to stop endangering not only himself but others,” Langdon told FIVEaa radio’s Rowey and Bicks Show on Monday.
“There was an incident a couple of weeks ago at Leach Highway where he almost got cleaned up by a truck and he’s at a situation in his life where he needs serious help … at the moment he’s a person that needs to confront himself and he’s not exactly in the state of mind to do that.
“He was sitting at the Wembley Hotel just two weeks ago and someone asked him if he wanted a drink and he said he was waiting for the train. There’s no train there, it doesn’t exist. There’s no train station.”
Former West Coast Eagles star Ben Cousins was hospitalised after a bizarre highway meltdown. https://t.co/6kRBTYw1S1 https://t.co/sZU5t4rFs8
— 7 News Adelaide (@7NewsAdelaide) June 27, 2016
The visible manifestation of Cousins’ downward spiral is clear in the very public way his problems have been covered in the media. Be it the footage of him emerging from a police car bare-chested after being arrested for drugs possession or the most recent example of getting chased by police and ending up in an ambulance, the man once idolised by so many has seen his reputation tarnished forever.
But what we don’t see is the impact on his family, particularly his parents.
“He’s a drug addict, he’s a full blown drug addict. He’s never been able to shake it,” Langdon said.
“I feel so very sorry for Bryan and Stephanie Cousins who are great people, very good parents. They sent him to a private school education … and this can happen unfortunately to anybody and this is why drugs are a scourge on our society.
“For anyone who deals them this is why we need to have the harshest penalties that we can have because this is what can happen to your children.”
Cousins has two kids of his own, both to his former partner who, according to Langdon, has a situation no better than his. She pleaded guilty last year to possessing drug paraphernalia with a prohibited drug in it after police found her with a used syringe and two clip seal bags at a West Australian motel.
“He’s got no (parenting) ability, and sadly nor does the mother of his children, she is much the same,” Langdon said.
“She’s also done time, she’s got the same sort of struggles that he has so I feel very sorry for the children that are caught up in that situation with their mother and father.
“He’s constantly out on the street, numerous times he’s been seen in situations where he’s really just out of his mind.”
‘THE SYSTEM FAILED HIM’
LANGDON is still at a loss as to how an elite football player immersed in the rigorously professional environment of an AFL club could have ventured down the path he has.
“The system failed him firstly,” Langdon said.
“How does he become a drug addict in the first place with the system that’s in place in professional sport?
“He became a drug addict while he was playing professional football for the West Coast Eagles, so how did that happen?
“During his playing career he was a very high functioning drug addict … and he was able to get away with it. It’s unbelievable.”
As for the chances we’ll see an improvement at some point in the future, Langdon isn’t so hopeful.
“I’ve been hoping that he’d be OK for years, but in the last few weeks and months he has become far more erratic in his behaviour.
“It’s become more consistent and to be totally honest, he needs to be put in a facility where he can’t do himself or anyone else now any harm.”
‘HE WILL PASS AWAY FROM DRUGS’
THE sad reality is, if Cousins continues the way he’s going, his life could meet the saddest of endings.
Herald Sun footy columnist Jon Ralph said he couldn’t see any other outcome for the four-time Eagles best-and-fairest winner.
“We all feel right now that it’s too late for Ben, potentially he will pass away from drugs and that’s just the most terrible situation we could ever imagine, but I don’t see any other way for his life to end,” Ralph said on SEN’s The Run Home.
“He loved the drug testing situation at Richmond because it got him clean but as soon as he left, he was back on the gear,” said Ralph.
“Premierships haven’t helped him, it made him worse. A couple of kids haven’t helped him, the love of a woman didn’t help him. I’m not sure now what does help him.”
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