The early hours of September 10th saw the talented Port Adelaide Football Club player John McCarthy fall from a Las Vegas hotel balcony to his death. According to an article in The Age, McCarthy, accompanied by ten other Port players celebrating the end of season, had spent much of the night at the exclusive XS Nightclub at Vegas’ Wynn Casino. Separating from the group at approximately 4.30am on Monday morning, McCarthy found himself on the fourth floor roof of the nearby Flamingo Hotel, where he was not staying, and accidentally slipped and fell nine meters to his death. The remaining ten players embarked on their trip home, where they were met by the Football Club’s Welfare and Media Managers prior to being offered counselling. The Herald Sun reported that:
Port Adelaide CEO Keith Thomas said it was as yet unclear whether McCarthy had been affected by drugs, but players admitted drugs had been widely available.
As reported by ABC News, a recent study commissioned by the AFL into the drinking habits of their players has highlighted that 54% partake in consuming alcohol at ‘risky levels’ outside of the sporting season, compared to 15% of the general male population. Given that this incident, as well as the three alcohol-related charges issued recently to AFL player Aaron Edwards, occurred during off-season periods, the study indicates an alternative approach to educating players on alcohol use and abuse is necessary. The study pointed out that being a member of the players’ leadership group did not appear to affect alcohol intake of players, however membership to particular clubs did. This brings into question the effectiveness of club intervention to better equip players to protect their reputation and ensure their safety off the field.
While clubs such as Collingwood, Geelong and Richmond have taken a firm stance on banning players for unethical behaviour ranging from misuse of alcohol to speeding and drug-taking, an article in the Herald Sun indicates that some players feel that clubs’ enforcing conformity to stringent behavioural standards is dollar-driven. Collingwood’s Dane Swan was recently suspended for a fortnight for breaking the team pledge to avoid alcohol during the season, despite the consumption being incident-free. This “zero tolerance” regime for AFL players has been criticised as being imposed by certain clubs out of fear of losing sponsorship and could be enough to cause players to retire early, as players state that they might be deprived of their need to learn from their mistakes and grow into balanced adults. Both AFL Players’ Association chief Matt Finnis and Associate Professor Paul Dietze, an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, who partook in conducting the alcohol use study, agree that players should not be expected to live up to a behavioural standard that is significantly higher than what is expected of everyone else. Professor Dietz suggests that the AFL ought to be recognised for their pro-activeness in managing players’ risky alcohol consumption.