Players' union slams AFL for 'buckling' on Cousins

THE AFL Players Association has effectively blamed the AFL for the shunning of Ben Cousins, accusing the league of having "bent and buckled" to demands for retribution against the recovering drug addict.

The AFLPA has written to the league accusing it of actions that "humiliate the fallen when they are at their neediest" in relation to the conditions placed on Cousins' potential return.

"I believe the Ben Cousins affair has brought the game of AFL football in to disrepute," doctor Pippa Grange, the AFLPA's general manager of psychology, people and culture, wrote. "At the whim of a fearful, baying public, fuelled by panicked and over-zealous politicians and a steamrolling media, the industry has bent and buckled, demonstrating that the human beings that are the hub of the AFL industry wheel are disposable, dismissable and quickly disregarded."

Cousins, the 2005 Brownlow medallist, was banned last year for bringing the game into disrepute.

e is attempting a comeback in this month's pre-season draft but will almost certainly be overlooked by all clubs with picks in it.

Grange said the way a drug addict was treated in the aftermath of their addiction was crucial to their ability to successfully recover.

"Drug addiction must surely be the least understood of all our illnesses as a society. We respond with cold dispatch and vitriolic disclaimers that exclude, marginalise and humiliate the fallen when they are at their neediest," Grange wrote, insisting drug addiction should be treated as a mental illness.

"We offer support to a point, then struggle with our own feelings of betrayal and disappointment when the inevitable relapse or ingratitude shows up."

The AFLPA psychologist described Cousins as a "young man seduced by his own glory and the glamour afforded him by his life as an AFL footballer", and queried why the league and its supporters had not embraced him with "courage and compassion".

"We don't do so well with tall poppies in Australia. Many would have found it more palatable had he fallen on his sword, wept for mercy and not looked good through the process," she wrote.

"It may have been more acceptable had he gone to rehab in Mansfield, not Malibu; had his public face been contrition, not cockiness."

The AFL's decision to impose strict conditions on any Cousins' return to the AFL — he had to agree to up to three drug tests a week to prove his recovery — was "an indictment on the game's ability to resist rhetoric pressures".

She also said those conditions, decided by the AFL commissioners, was akin to "moralising" on Cousins' situation.

"At the bottom of the scrapheap is a human being, a man whose story begins (and) remains unfinished," Grange wrote.

AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said last night that the league would not comment about the criticisms contained in Grange's letter.