LOS­ING STREAK

Is prob­lem gam­bling among its play­ers ru­in­ing Aussie rules?

GQ (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RICHARD CLUNE

David Sch­warz’s phone will start to light up at the back end of next month. He’s ex­pect­ing it be­cause it’s a pat­tern that’s for years now rung true. Be­cause it’s the end of an­other bru­tal and pro­tracted AFL sea­son, sig­nal­ing the start of spring rac­ing as it gal­lops to­wards an­other Mel­bourne Cup. His phone will chirp with num­bers mostly un­fa­mil­iar. On the other end – men. Men who know the shake that fol­lows the roar of 90,000 calls of ‘BALL’ at the MCG on a fresh July after­noon. Men, young men at that, who’ve only just come to feel the blis­ter­ing pace and the pierc­ing pain of a full pre­sea­son train­ing sched­ule. Des­per­a­tion strains their voices and threads their sto­ries. It’s de­spair that’s led them here – to this point, to call a man they re­fer to as The Ox. It’s a moniker that high­lights the size of the cham­pion num­ber 5 for the Mel­bourne Foot­ball Club – a 6’3” 100kg bul­lock who split packs and never shirked; a for­ward whose sur­pris­ing agility also saw him reg­u­larly dance around op­po­si­tion back­men en route to goal. “They’re pretty des­per­ate and they’re lost, that’s where they’re at,” Sch­warz of­fers of those who call. “They’ve hit a wall, they’ve fi­nally worked out that they’re pretty stuffed and they’re des­per­ate enough to reach out.” They seek out Sch­warz be­cause he’s some­one who knows their sto­ries. Be­cause it’s also been his story – the tale of how crip­pling gam­bling ad­dic­tion saw one of the sport’s all-time greats walk away in 2002 pen­ni­less and shad­owed by a seven–fig­ure debt. It is the story of a man who es­ti­mates to have lost more than $5m over the course of his 12-year ca­reer. “I know what it’s like to have no money, to be des­per­ate… I know what it’s like to feel that an­guish. It’s prob­a­bly the worst feel­ing in the world.” Sch­warz ad­mits that when his phone rings he can no longer of­fer the same level of sup­port he once did, a time when he’d drop what he was do­ing and hop on flights all over the coun­try to sit and speak and per­son­ally console a player. All at his own cost. It came to a head a cou­ple of years back – it was all too con­sum­ing. To­day, he still lis­tens be­fore steer­ing play­ers to those he knows can help. “I was get­ting five play­ers or man­agers a month ring­ing me di­rectly to say, ‘ I’m stuffed, I can’t get out, I need help’. It got to a point where I just couldn’t do it any­more, you know. I was do­ing it be­fore and in be­tween and af­ter ev­ery­thing else I had go­ing on and it was just get­ting to me… Now I say it’s not that I can’t help, but here’s some­one I know who you can trust and who you’re bet­ter off see­ing right now.” Speak to Sch­warz and you hear a man who gen­uinely wishes he could do more – a de­sire to aid any­one bat­tling the same de­mons he hasn’t al­lowed get the bet­ter of him since 2005. As he sees it, more should be done. More needs to be done. As Sch­warz sees it, the AFL has a ma­jor gam­bling prob­lem. “Are more play­ers in se­ri­ous trou­ble through gam­bling than drugs and al­co­hol? Yep, I’d say there are three or four times more prob­lem-gam­blers than those with is­sues with the other two. And I’d say that of the 800 or what­ever play­ers you’ve got in the AFL, 20 to 30 per cent have a gam­bling prob­lem. This is a fuck­ing big is­sue.”

Jan Beames has sport in her blood. Her un­cle was the flam­boy­ant and leg­endary Aus­tralian all-rounder Keith Miller. Her fa­ther-in-law, Percy Beames, was also a known De­mons charge who went on to be­come The Age’s chief foot­ball and cricket jour­nal­ist. She was rec­om­mended to us for this story by sev­eral work­ing in and around the AFL, in­clud­ing one player-man­ager who sim­ply la­beled her “the best in the busi­ness”. As a pro­fes­sional coun­selor of 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, Beames has worked across a wealth of is­sues with in­nu­mer­able sports peo­ple – from Olympic swim­mers, to run­ners, row­ers and rugby union play­ers. Her of­fice has also seen a re­volv­ing door of AFL play­ers – all di­rected by word of mouth or the gen­tle push of an­other who knows of her work. Sch­warz cred­its his re­cov­ery to Beames – and it is known that she also helped drag former Hawthorn premier­ship player Brent Guerra out of the pit of a gam­bling ad­dic­tion that saw him lose his way and an es­ti­mated $400,000 in just four years. An ad­dic­tion to gam­bling, Beames of­fers, in­volves reach­ing a point where plac­ing a bet and walk­ing away is no longer pos­si­ble. “It’s when they’re com­pletely con­sumed, when they can’t stop think­ing about it and they go to in­creas­ing lengths to do it. And once they start, they re­ally can­not stop.” She speaks of play­ers who’ve openly bet up to an hour be­fore run­ning out on the field. She speaks of play­ers not sleep­ing en­tire week­ends due to a habit. Of those who’ve lost homes and fam­i­lies to what is a wretched ad­dic­tion.

Beames also doesn’t shy away from pre­sent­ing prob­lem-gam­bling as a ma­jor is­sue for the AFL – one on an as­cen­dant arc. “I’m see­ing more with gam­bling prob­lems to­day than I have be­fore, yes. And most of those play­ers have lost six fig­ures.” She’s see­ing a few at the mo­ment. From those who’ve only just slipped on an AFL guernsey to those al­ready well known to the pub­lic. She’s hes­i­tant to say too much and that’s un­der­stand­able. “There’s one guy and he’s a star. He’s played ev­ery game this sea­son. And he’s smart too – he didn’t study at school and he got amaz­ing grades. He’s one of those freaks. And I kept think­ing about why he was here, you know, be­cause I see so many play­ers and I was just in­ter­ested in why is this guy was here, be­cause he re­ally is such a thinker. He’s smart.” His re­sponse was sim­ple. “‘Well Jan, I get 25 grand in my bank ev­ery month, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands and I get bored.’ And then he said that at the club every­one’s al­ways on their phones and they’re al­ways talk­ing about bets and tips and races and it’s just all the time, that’s what he said, ‘It’s all the time’.” Like the oth­ers Beames sees, he be­gan to lose more than he was mak­ing. He was chas­ing wins try­ing to cover grow­ing debts. Never chase debt. That’s the slope. That’s when it hits. That’s when a player lands in the hole. Guerra’s story is one that high­lights how quickly recre­ational gam­bling can come to own a player. How con­trol morphs into sear­ing loss. How a bet­ting cul­ture can act as a dan­ger­ous leader. Guerra, now on the coach­ing staff at Fre­man­tle FC, didn’t re­turn a re­quest to be in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle. We were told he’s said his piece – and he has. “Early on in my AFL ca­reer I’d go to the pub on the week­end with my mates for a cou­ple of beers and we’d all put $20 or $50 in for a few bets to­gether. It was a good way to catch up, and my bet­ting was un­der con­trol,” Guerra de­tailed in a 2015 ar­ti­cle about his ad­dic­tion. “When I started play­ing for Hawthorn, there were guys who owned horses and guys who liked to bet, and I got sucked into that cul­ture. I went to the races a lot af­ter the footy sea­son fin­ished and started to bet more fre­quently.” Things changed in 2011. “In a sin­gle mo­ment it re­ally got a hold. I put a bet on and ended up win­ning $30,000. At the time I thought it was the great­est thing, but in the long run it ended up be­ing the worst thing that has ever hap­pened to me.” Punt­ing on the horses, the dogs, the trots – Guerra quickly went on to lose. His daily habit would eat his monthly salary and he was bor­row­ing against his home loan to chase an­other win. At the time of go­ing to print on this story, former AFL player turned me­dia per­son­al­ity Ryan Fitzger­ald opened up about his is­sues with gam­bling – which stemmed from his time at the Syd­ney Swans. “Those four years that I had in the AFL, I punted a lot of my money up the wall,” Fitzger­ald said in July. “It was the en­vi­ron­ment. Back in those days, there was a lot of down time be­tween train­ing ses­sions and in the Swans, (the) ma­jor­ity of blokes would go down the pub and just have a punt… For me, it was you get to hang out with some of these se­nior blokes go­ing, ‘This is amaz­ing’.” Fitzger­ald de­tailed how gam­bling left him with debts that meant he could no longer af­ford his mort­gage. It’s a story all too fa­mil­iar to Beames. “I’ve had some young play­ers drafted away from home when they’re very young and deal­ing with lone­li­ness, miss­ing home, not feel­ing like they be­long so they start bet­ting to be­come part of the team – there’s of­ten a sense of peer pres­sure to gam­ble be­cause it’s part of a team cul­ture” she says. “Some of the young play­ers, when they join these clubs, they see play­ers on their phones all the time, watch­ing races and talk­ing about punt­ing all the time. And so these younger guys get in­volved, that’s how it starts, but then they can’t stop.” GQ ap­proached 16 cur­rent play­ers for this story. Six across four clubs agreed to speak – though all re­quested anonymity, not want­ing to be known to be­tray team ranks.

“I KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE NO MONEY, TO BE DES­PER­ATE... TO FEEL THAT AN­GUISH.”

Of the six, all ad­mit­ted to reg­u­larly gam­bling each week, two of them daily. Four said they knew of play­ers in the league who’d lost six-fig­ure sums and each be­lieved they knew at least one cur­rent player with a gam­bling prob­lem. Amer­i­can sports are favoured via on­line bet­ting agen­cies ac­cessed from smart­phones. It’s ac­ces­si­ble – and easy. It kills the time be­tween train­ing ses­sions and other foot­ball­re­lated com­mit­ments. “Yeah that’s what it’s about mostly, NFL and NBA and that,” of­fered one player. “And horses and too, though mainly it’s the Amer­i­can sports be­cause you can get some good mul­tis and that’s what the guys are into.” Four of the play­ers we spoke to agreed their club had an en­trenched bet­ting cul­ture. “It’s what the chat’s about when we’re not train­ing,” said one. Beames – set to pub­lish a new book, Break­ing the Gam­bling Ad­dic­tion – says that her ‘thinker’ re­cently claimed that 65 per cent of the play­ers at his club, a top Mel­bourne club, are daily gam­blers. “He said there’s only 35 per cent who don’t.” Talk to any gam­bler and they’ll tell you of their wins. The sear­ing pain of loss is rarely dis­cussed. If ever. And be­sides, gam­bling is le­gal. And in this coun­try it in­forms our dusty, knock­about im­age – of the bat­tler done good. “We’re just hav­ing some fun,” said one of the play­ers we spoke to. “It’s just some­thing we do to chill… I don’t per­son­ally see the prob­lem if we’re not in any trou­ble with it.” He failed to de­scribe what ‘trou­ble’ would look like. In the course of re­search­ing this story, we came to hear the names of sev­eral AFL play­ers – those whom both fans and the league re­fer to as ‘stars’ – al­leged to be bat­tling se­vere gam­bling ad­di­tion. Some have sought help. Some have re­lapsed af­ter coun­sel­ing. One, we were told, chased and se­cured an in­ter­state trans­fer in the hope of out­run­ning heavy­set Mel­bourne debt col­lec­tors. An­other’s wife, it was al­leged, learnt of her part­ner’s ad­dic­tion pay­ing for the fam­ily’s weekly shop­ping – forced to leave the su­per­mar­ket with only her chil­dren af­ter three separate credit cards turned out to be over­drawn. Sch­warz speaks of an­other forced to move in­ter­state – this time to out­run his former club’s gam­bling cul­ture. “He was try­ing to get bet­ter, he had an ad­dic­tion, and he kept say­ing to the club that he couldn’t get bet­ter when the whole club’s gam­bling their ears off. I mean he’d go to his ‘work­place’ and ev­ery player there is bet­ting be­yond their means and he ac­tu­ally went to the footy man­ager three times to be told they don’t have an is­sue – so he had to leave be­cause the ad­dic­tion he had was so bad and yet he went to work every­day and it was thrown in his face.” Phil Davis is a player who, like Sch­warz in his day, is known for an un­wa­ver­ing at­tack on the footy field. As the Gi­ants’ co-cap­tain he wears proudly the or­ange and grey. He also sits on the board of the AFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (PA) un­der Gee­long cham­pion Pa­trick Danger­field – who didn’t an­swer sub­mit­ted ques­tions for this ar­ti­cle. Davis doesn’t gam­ble. And he’s quick to state that the Gi­ants have stood firm against a gam­bling cul­ture per­vad­ing the club. It’s some­thing they must con­tinue to work on, he ad­mits, given he also un­der­stands how gam­bling can eas­ily take hold. “When you’re in a footy club of 42 blokes every­one is al­ways look­ing for a con­nec­tion, for a way to bond with each other,” Davis says. “And mu­tual in­ter­ests are the best way to do that and un­for­tu­nately if it is gam­bling, that can be­come toxic. “We have erad­i­cated talk about gam­bling around the club and we don’t have a punter’s club – we’ve never had a punter’s club. You know, there are some so­cial ben­e­fits to some con­trolled so­cial gam­bling, but it can turn ugly very quickly. It’s not that we don’t want our guys to have a good time, but it can be a fine line when some­one gets a hit and then bang, they’re sud­denly in a lot of trou­ble. And I get it – I am com­pet­i­tive, I hate to lose, and all play­ers share that same psy­che and then to go into a space where the odds are stacked against you, where you’re fight­ing to win and find your way out… But with gam­bling you can’t.” Peer pres­sure. Cul­ture. Money. Bore­dom. Adren­a­line. “Foot­ballers, un­for­tu­nately, hit ev­ery key de­mo­graphic,” says Sch­warz, who to­day works for Mac­quarie Sports Ra­dio. “They’re young and are high-in­come earn­ers, they’re risk tak­ers and adren­a­line junkies and of­ten sin­gle, hang­ing out with af­flu­ent peo­ple and in a mob en­vi­ron­ment. I mean if you had all your boxes lined up of what a prob­lem-gam­bler looks like, then sports peo­ple tick all of them” Beames agrees – fur­ther­ing Davis’ link be­tween the emo­tions at­tached to gam­bling as well as com­pet­ing at the top tier. “There’s a very sim­i­lar adren­a­line rush with play­ing and gam­bling,” she says. “And so some­times if they’ve lost [a game] they’re try­ing to coun­ter­act the emo­tional let­down, the dis­ap­point­ment of the loss by the adren­a­line rush of a gam­bling win. “There’s two types of gam­blers, to put it sim­ply. The ones that use gam­bling as an anaes­thetic to present emo­tions or emo­tions they can’t deal with. And then there’s other play­ers who are risk tak­ers and who love the adren­a­line and are just al­ways chas­ing that – by play­ing or gam­bling. For them, it’s no dif­fer­ent to hav­ing a hit.”

The re­turn email from lead­ing AFL player agent Rob­bie D’orazio was strik­ing in its hon­esty. ‘A mas­sive space and one that I deal with on a daily ba­sis!’ his re­ply to be­ing asked to dis­cuss al­leged prob­lem-gam­bling amongst the AFL play­ing group. D’orazio is a part­ner at lead­ing Mel­bourne firm Connor Sports Man­age­ment. The out­fit looks af­ter “about 100” AFL play­ers across the coun­try. “This is def­i­nitely the big­gest is­sue for us in the game,” he says, speak­ing on the phone a few days later. In dis­cussing

“IT AF­FECTS THE PLAYER BUT IT ALSO ENDS UP AF­FECT­ING ALL THOSE AROUND HIM TOO.”

the is­sue, the amount of free time play­ers have, the ease of gam­bling on­line and in­creas­ing player salaries are all ex­plored. “There are guys who don’t punt at all, but then there are those who re­ally get into and go too hard.” D’orazio cites former play­ers such as Bren­dan Fevola, Daryn Cress­well, Si­mon Good­win and Daniel Ward, among oth­ers. Like Sch­warz and Guerra – each was a stand­out of the game and each came to scrape rock bot­tom as a re­sult of gam­bling ad­dic­tion. Fevola de­clined to par­tic­i­pate in this ar­ti­cle though he has pre­vi­ously re­called how, at the height of his gam­bling, he lost more than $360,000 in a sin­gle week­end on Hong Kong horse races he “knew noth­ing about”. “It’s an ad­dic­tive thing, it’s a re­ally bad ad­dic­tion to have and it ob­vi­ously crip­ples a lot of peo­ple’s lives,” Fevola said. The former Carl­ton full-for­ward de­clared bank­ruptcy in 2013. “It gets pretty sad,” says D’orazio. “I mean it af­fects the player and there are some hor­ror sto­ries out there, but it also ends up af­fect­ing all those around him too.” Asked di­rectly how many of his 100 had a prob­lem with gam­bling, D’orazio claimed 20. “As I said, I deal with it on a daily ba­sis.” One re­spected Mel­bourne premier­ship coach uses a well-worn de­scrip­tor about the is­sues he be­lieves all AFL play­ers will at some stage face. He calls it, rather un­po­et­i­cally, the ‘Four Ps’ – pussy, pow­der, piss, punt­ing. D’orazio main­tains the lat­ter to be the most harm­ful and preva­lent. “Drugs and drink­ing aren’t re­ally op­tions as they want to look af­ter them­selves and be proud of their per­for­mance. It’s gam­bling, that’s the one and it’s why we’ve started to man­age a lot of their money so we know what they’re do­ing. So we’re onto it – but it’s not go­ing away.” It’s also not be­ing spo­ken about – not openly, any­way. Where the AFL can be ap­plauded in re­gards to their work on tack­ling racism and female in­clu­siv­ity, it’s keep­ing sch­tum about what is widely con­sid­ered to be the big­gest is­sue amongst its own play­ing group. At the time of print, AFL con­ver­sa­tion was cen­tered on con­ges­tion in the game, en­forced ruck nom­i­na­tions and pend­ing rule changes to be en­acted in time for the 2019 sea­son. The AFL failed to move on nu­mer­ous re­quests to in­ter­view CEO Gil­lon Mclach­lan or any of the code’s ex­ec­u­tives for this ar­ti­cle. “I don’t think they have ever taken this se­ri­ously,” states Sch­warz. “This is a se­ri­ous is­sue and they’ve only got a fuck­ing Band-aid over it. If that.” Former Vic­to­rian pre­mier and Hawthorn Pres­i­dent Jeff Ken­nett agrees. “Your first re­spon­si­bil­ity in terms of gov­er­nance in run­ning a club or a code or a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion is good gov­er­nance and the wel­fare of your em­ploy­ees,” he says. “And the clubs and the AFL should re­ally be more con­cerned and more in­ter­ested in ed­u­cat­ing play­ers about the pit­falls of gam­bling. Be­cause there is no doubt that there are more peo­ple gam­bling within the play­ing groups.” Ken­nett be­lieves the AFL should be shin­ing the spot­light on its own ranks in­stead of its cur­rent cru­sade to move more clubs away from a re­liance on poker-ma­chine rev­enues. For Hawthorne the 2016/17 sea­son brought in $23.29m from their club ma­chines. “The AFL, hav­ing taken on a so­cial con­science on all mat­ters, ar­tic­u­lates a po­si­tion on gam­ing ma­chines and wor­ries about those in the com­mu­nity who un­for­tu­nately gam­ble be­yond their means,” says Ken­nett. “But they are not nearly as proac­tive in wor­ry­ing about gam­bling within the ranks of those they give the op­por­tu­nity to play the game.” Last year, Sa­man­tha Thomas, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of pub­lic health at Deakin University and who was em­ployed by the AFLPA to run a pi­lot ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram on prob­lem gam­bling within clubs, pub­licly crit­i­cised the AFL for its on­go­ing fi­nan­cial en­tan­gle­ment with sports bet­ting agen­cies. In 2016 the AFL signed a lu­cra­tive five-year deal with Crown­bet for $50m. Many see this as a crux when it comes to the AFL be­ing more vo­cal in pub­licly ad­dress­ing the is­sue of gam­bling ad­dic­tion and be­ing more proac­tive in the pre­ven­tion of its al­leged march across the play­ing group. “Yeah, this is the dis­ease no one wants to talk about,” says Mark Robin­son, The Her­ald Sun’s chief foot­ball writer. “And it’s in­ter­est­ing isn’t it that the AFL play­ers have gam­bling ad­dic­tions and the AFL then throws up nine games on TV ev­ery week­end with gam­bling ads ev­ery­where.” Rob­sin­son la­bels such ad­ver­tis­ing brain­wash­ing. “It’s pro­pa­ganda that’s its OK to bet. And if the govern­ment or the AFL had any balls they’d stop that, but the money is too great to give up. You know, the en­tire world we live in is cor­rupt in some way, the en­tire world is hyp­o­crit­i­cal in some way. Though, the AFL ac­cept­ing gam­bling rev­enue is prob­a­bly no dif­fer­ent to the me­dia ac­cept­ing gam­bling spon­sor­ship. “The whole world has been touched by gam­bling and it is a rev­enue source for so many.”

He re­calls his sev­enth-grade teacher Mr Inge, who turned him on to po­etry: “It wasn’t a tra­di­tional English class,” he says. “It was more of an artis­tic ex­er­cise. He told us to ‘write some­thing only you can un­der­stand, then pass it on to the next per­son.’” He tells me about the visit with his par­ents to the White House (“Obama reached out”). “My mother wore a black-and-brown dress; she made sure to wear her best.” And, he tells me, “It [took me back] to talk­ing to my grandma, when she was alive, and I was al­ways think­ing what it would be like if we had a black pres­i­dent. She had some hope…” And even though Ken­drick has had po­lit­i­cal songs, such as ‘XXX’ and ‘Al­right’ – which be­came an an­them for Black Lives Mat­ter marches – he says he doesn’t talk much about pol­i­tics be­cause “I just get too frus­trated”. I ask him how he feels about Kanye West’s state­ments about Trump and about slav­ery and, af­ter a long pause, he says, “He has his own per­spec­tive, and he’s on this whole agree to dis­agree thing, and I would have this con­ver­sa­tion with him per­son­ally if I want to.” I ask about his song ‘Love’ on DAMN, and he says, “That’s one of my first real per­sonal love songs; it’s per­sonal for me, but it’s a univer­sal feel­ing when peo­ple lis­ten to it.” But as for his own per­sonal love re­la­tion­ship with Al­ford, he doesn’t talk about it, he says, be­cause “I want some­thing that’s just for me”. Since he says he was con­fi­dent as a kid, and he’s con­fi­dent now, why were there all those self­doubts he’s writ­ten about that came in be­tween? “I never thought about it like that,” he says. “That’s a ques­tion I’m go­ing to ask my­self tonight. Maybe it’s that fear... a lot of artists have a fear of suc­cess, they can’t han­dle it; some peo­ple need drugs to es­cape. For me, I need the mi­cro­phone – that’s how I re­lease it. And just fig­ur­ing out a new life. Maybe think­ing that I’m do­ing some­thing wrong, or that I’m a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent or gifted. It’s the same thing as not want­ing to ac­cept com­pli­ments. Just want­ing to work harder.” As for what’s next: “I don’t know,” he says. “And that’s the most fun part, the most beau­ti­ful part.” I ask him if, as he sings in ‘El­e­ment,’ he would “die for this shit,” and he says, with­out a sec­ond’s hes­i­ta­tion, “I would”. Robin­son also be­lieves its hard for clubs and the AFL to do more given most play­ers are ex­tremely se­cre­tive about their gam­bling habits. “It’s se­cre­tive this stuff. And un­less a player wants to talk about it, you know it’s an in­va­sion of their pri­vacy. If [the AFL] go and say, ‘You’ve got a prob­lem’ then they’ll be like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ They can’t do a lot un­til that player wants to talk about it.” GQ un­der­stands that cur­rent player ed­u­ca­tion about prob­lem-gam­bling, as de­liv­ered by the PA and AFL, in­volves var­i­ous one-off dis­cus­sions and sem­i­nars run at a club level and an an­nual sur­vey at the start of a new year. “How many blokes do you reckon are an­swer­ing that thing hon­estly – I’m not about to say I’ve got a prob­lem with any­thing when I’m fill­ing it out next to my team­mate,” said one of the play­ers we spoke to. Fur­ther, two said they would never tell the club of an is­sue for fear of look­ing weak among the play­ing group while also fear­ing such in­for­ma­tion be­ing made pu­bic. “It’s hap­pened be­fore – a player’s gone and put his hand up and he’s been dropped for a game. There’s an­other guy who saw his name end up in the papers… Dif­fer­ent clubs give dif­fer­ent lev­els of care. Some, if you’re win­ning, couldn’t give a shit about what’s go­ing on.” It’s a point fur­thered by Peter ‘Sp­ida’ Everitt – a lithe and tat­tooed ruck­man who played 291 games for St Kilda, Hawthorn and Syd­ney. “We’ve all seen it, play good footy and what­ever prob­lems that may be about – drugs or drink­ing or gam­bling – get swept un­der the ta­ble,” says Everitt. “There’s a mas­sive role for clubs and the AFLPA around duty of care and player ap­pre­ci­a­tion and de­vel­op­ment and ev­ery club is dif­fer­ent. They have wel­fare of­fi­cers and some clubs make sure ev­ery­body goes no mat­ter what – but other clubs you wouldn’t speak to them in three years, so there are very dif­fer­ent stan­dards at dif­fer­ent foot­ball clubs… And ask an ex-player how many times he’s been con­tacted by the AFL or been checked in on to see how he’s do­ing out of the game? I haven’t heard from one club or the AFL or the PA [Everitt re­tired in 2008]. So if a bloke comes out at age 24 and he’s bad into gam­bling, then who’s help­ing him?” Many point to the AFL’S need to ac­cept the is­sue, in­crease trans­parency about it and bol­ster player ed­u­ca­tion through­out the year. “I think that needs to hap­pen, def­i­nitely,” says Tony Shea­han, an AFL jour­nal­ist with SEN Ra­dio in Mel­bourne. “But then do we need to also look at chang­ing the struc­ture of pay­ments – it’s child­like, but do we need to look at that? Give them a lump sum at em­ploy­ment’s end when they re­tire? I don’t know. Though, I agree that at the mo­ment it feels like every­one’s just pay­ing lip ser­vice to this is­sue – do the clubs and the AFL re­ally want to ad­dress this or ac­cept there’s a prob­lem? “There is no quick fix, ob­vi­ously though it is not an is­sue the AFL has prop­erly ad­dressed. And I’m not say­ing it is en­tirely the AFL’S prob­lem, they are the peak body and have to take it into con­sid­er­a­tion, but it is also a club is­sue as much as it is a player’s re­spon­si­bil­ity. But we must keep talk­ing to the play­ers, keep talk­ing about the dif­fi­cul­ties.” As for Sch­warz – a man who’s lived this tale and made it to the other side – only whole­sale lead­er­ship changes that shake the core of the cul­ture of gam­bling within the code will change things for the bet­ter. “They do pre­sen­ta­tions at [ju­nior] TAC cup level which is great, and the clubs do pre­sen­ta­tions each year,” he says. “But un­til the AFL and the clubs takes it from the top down, and have and en­force blan­ket poli­cies about gam­bling then it’s never go­ing to be fixed.”

THIS PAGE Former AFL star David Sch­warz now helps play­ers in their fight with prob­lemgam­bling; play­ing for the Mel­bourne De­mons; speak­ing to the Her­ald Sun in 2005.

THIS PAGE Brett Guerra cel­e­brates Hawthorne’s ti­tle win in 2013; Gi­ants co-cap­tain Phil Davis has spo­ken of how the club has avoided a gam­bling cul­ture.

FROM FAR LEFT Hawthorn pres­i­dent Jeff Ken­nett; Bren­dan Fevola and Peter Everitt dur­ing their play­ing days; Ryan Fitzger­ald dis­cussing his bat­tle with gam­bling ad­dic­tion at the SCG; AFL CEO Gil­lon Mclach­lan.

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