Ben Cousins: Child of the Nanny State

So, Ben Cousins finally faces the press…and firmly establishes himself as a true child of the nanny state.

“Deep down I don’t think I really had a choice,” bleated Cuz. “From a medical point of view, drug addiction is an illness. It is a very hard thing for people who have not experienced it to get their head around.”

VERY hard, Benny – cos it’s utter bullshit.

Whether drug addiction is or is not an “illness” is debatable. Medical opinion is divided, but it really doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. The point is moot. Let’s get it out of the way and go with Cousins and the medicos he’s listening to. Let’s call drug addiction an illness. Here’s something that is not disputable: like cirrhosis of the liver or Korsakoff’s Syndrome, drug addiction is an illness that is entirely preventable – a direct result of chronic substance abuse, which is surely a matter of personal decision.

You’d imagine Cuz would have learned a bit about himself through all the crap he’s gone through as a result of his drug addiction. Adversity, after all, is supposed to be a crack teacher (sorry). And rehab…isn’t that about self-confrontation, about wising up to the lies you tell yourself to justify your actions so you can no longer fall back on self-deception and rationalisation, and get to see that you DO have a choice in most things – certainly in whether or not to have another hit…and another…and another?

Well, maybe Cousins has learned a bit. The cockiness that had so irritated the media and general public was no longer in evidence at the press conference with Mundine at which he broke his public silence on his addiction. There was even a suggestion of humility and an acceptance of the consequences of his series of fuckups. But then he went and spoiled it all by saying sumpin’ stoopid like “deep down I don’t think I really had a choice.”

Actually, he’s right. He didn’t have “a choice” – he had multiple choices. His first hit was a choice. So was his second. And third. And so on. Contrary to popular myth, addiction is not something that grabs you like a monstrous hand from the deep and pulls you under as soon as you make the mistake of having your first taste.

Heroin, for example, is not initially highly addictive. You have to try quite hard to develop a serious habit. It takes some intensive use – multiple hits within a relatively short time frame. Many casual users use smack occasionally year after year without coming close to addiction.

By all accounts, ice is far more dangerous in its addictive qualities. But it’s not a rat-trap. It takes a lot more than one tentative taste of the bait for physical addiction to strike. And it beggars belief that someone like Cousins would not have been aware of the dangers.

Cuz needs to be asking himself, then, WHY he made that series of choices that ended in addiction. He may be getting close in his assessment that “the very things that make me a great footballer are some of the things that led me to fall into those sorts of traps [drug addiction].” Many elite sportspersons have obsessive personalities. Addiction to their sport is seen as extreme dedication, a positive, and probably an essential element in any on-field champion. Cousins’ case shows the flipside of the addictive personality.

Perhaps an inflated ago seduced him into a sense of invulnerability. Elite jocks like Cousins are venerated in our society – ludicrously so. Start believing your own myth and you’re in a lot of trouble. This has been the downfall of many a “celebrity”. And the head-in-the-sand attitude of Nanny Gooding and others at the Eagles did Cousins a grave disservice. He needed tough love from the start, not a nest of nannies delivering a two-fingered slap to the back of the hand while patting his addled head. Whatever, EVERY HIT WAS STILL COUSINS’ CHOICE.

Until he embraces that fact, he will remain perilously close to the slippery slope he appears to have clawed his way back up. Why? Because to fully understand and acknowledge that he did, indeed, have a choice every step of his way to ice addiction is to accept complete personal responsibility for his actions. And why is that essential? Because accepting personal responsibility empowers you to consciously, wilfully, determine your actions, instead of buying into the lie that you have no choice. If you alone are responsible for your actions, you alone have the power to choose what those actions will be.

Ben Cousins was one of the most courageous footballers I have seen in a lifetime of following AFL. Perhaps it says something about the limitations of a jock that he has yet to summon the courage off the field to fully face himself and the demons within that seduced him into making destructive choices about which he is evidently still in denial.

3 thoughts on “Ben Cousins: Child of the Nanny State”

  1. Could not agree more. The head in the sand attitude shown towards Cousins and the Eagles in general is nauseating. I honestly reckon Cousins could kill someone and there would still be a sizeable percentage of Eagles fans bleating “Leave poor little Benny alone” or “Its the medias fault”. In all honesty though, as much as I want to- I can not attribute all of the blame to Cuz and his ilk( of course it is his fault he became addicted). The culture within sports media in Perth is deperately conservative. I have something of an interest in this topic as I studied Journalism at Uni and attempted for a while to get into sports journalism. I believe the dullsville aspect of life in Perth is definately represented by sports media. Basically you are presumed to be an Eagles Fan, at a stretch a Dockers Fan. You are allowed to like Cricket in the Summer. Any other sport is considered inferior- the “other”. This is not good enough in a city of 1.5 million! Personally- soccer is my game but I am a fan of other sports as well. The level of disdain shown towards other sports by the sports media in Perth (read ex AFL coaches or players)is disgusting. AFL totally controls the access and promotion of sport in Perth. This transmits itself through to the AFL players- they sincerely believe they are the only show in town- and that EVERYONE is a fan. A friend of mine from Eastern States was out one night in Subiaco and saw the reaction of Eagles players when they saw Western Force rugby players at the same venue. The Eagles were petulant, sulking even, because they were not attracting all the attention. Add this attitude to the situation as you described- e.g Nanna Gooding and voila- Spoilt brats who honestly think they are untouchable. Of course AFL is biggest sport in town- but until Perth recognises there are other professional teams here with their own fans, needs e.ct. then the egomania and subsequent results that brings will continue.

  2. Yeah, Mark, the dominant focus on AFL and the Eagles in particular is part of the dullsville mentality that pervades this pissant city – all very insular.

    And I think you’re right that the extreme adulation and attention that comes from being the biggest jock stars in the spotlight results in swollen egos and in some players believing in their own myths. Always dangerous.

    I think also, though, that most interest in WA is in AFL, and that this justifies most media focus being on that code. AFL has a long tradition in WA and I hope its poularity continues. It’s part of the culture.

    However, there is room for more sports, and while the media here remains insular in the way you complain of – in relation to sport and other matters – it will be a gauge that our dullsville reading is still right off the scale.

  3. One thing the meth probably did to him was cause his sense of self to crumble and reveal to him the fragility of his own ego and the shadow self. Thats perhaps why he came out honestly about the addiction. As far as his association with Kizon and other local roughnuts goes, a lot of that i believe has to do with a basic principle of psychology. All these years of him being considered a role-model caused a subconscious reaction. When you are constantly seen as WA’s favourite son and a model athlete there is a collective expectation and pressure to conform to people’s unexpressed expectations of how you are supposed to behave, that you always have to be polite and positive and so on. All this created a kind of ferment in his mind where he began to see himself as a sheep and slave to his public persona. He shut his dark side up in a closet and like most things we repress it started to dominate his thinking, leading him down the path to bad company, drugs and the double life.

    Its a credit to him that he owned up to it all the way he did, but unfortunately i think he will always be remembered for the fall from grace that has to date punctuated his career. The amount of times the media used the term ‘drug addict’ when referring to him even months after he completed rehab showed that very clearly.

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