The ‘sorry addict’: Ben Cousins and the construction of drug use and addiction in elite sport

Seear, Kate; Fraser, Suzanne
June 2010
Health Sociology Review;Jun2010, Vol. 19 Issue 2, p176
Academic Journal
Australian Football League (AFL) player Ben Cousins is one of the most highly acclaimed and recognised athletes in Australia. Followed closely in the media, his off-field activities are subject to as much attention and speculation as those on the field. In 2007, Cousins and his family confirmed long-standing rumours that he was an illicit (non-performance enhancing) drug user. Following a series of incidents, his football contract was terminated and Cousins publicly entered drug rehabilitation. In this article we explore the multiple extant accounts of Cousins' drug use. We examine media representations of his drug use, including accounts from a range of key stakeholders, and we also look at Cousins' public accounts of his own drug use. What emerges is paradoxical picture both of Cousins himself and of drug users more broadly. Cousins is simultaneously positioned as in control and out of control, as manipulative and as subject to the manipulations of his ‘addiction’, as criminal and victim, as culpable and innocent. In the process, he acts as a figure through which contemporary understandings of the nature and implications of addiction are produced and reproduced. What is addiction? If, as many now take for granted, it is a disease requiring a medical response, what can be said about the agency and responsibility of the ‘addict’ in the context of elite sport? How do mainstream understandings of elite sportsmen as intrinsically masterful, commanding and physically exemplary mesh with assumptions about drug addicts as passive and physically compromised? In considering this intersection of discourses of elite sports and of addiction, we also explore some of the unique dimensions of the Cousins case including the challenge his embodied athleticism poses to understandings of his drug use, and the significance attributed to his rehabilitation and ‘comeback’ in 2009. We conclude with some reflections on the ways in which Cousins' case troubles certainties about drug use, and on the strategic efficacy of disease models of addiction in Australia.


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