Carey a product of sick culture

Christopher Scanlon

First published on 2 April 2008 and reproduced courtesy of The Courier Mail

Wayne Carey may be a bad apple, but he's not entirely to blame for his behaviour.

AFTER his interview with Wayne Carey for the ABC's Enough Rope, Andrew Denton characterised the former footballer as "in denial" about his behaviour. Given Carey's performance and statements to the media in recent months, it seems a fair assessment.

However, Carey's not the only one in denial. A large section of the media and many of his fans are also in denial about the culture that produces people such as Carey.

There are those who find it easier to see Carey as a single bad apple; a flawed character who lacked the strength to "Just Say No" to drugs. Up to a point, there's no argument there. No one forced his bad behaviour.

No one forced him into a life of drink, drugs and women.

The problem with the bad apple theory is that it overlooks the fact Carey is hardly the Lone Ranger when it comes to substance abuse and dodgy behaviour. Ben Cousins, Gary Ablett, Alan Didak, Jay Schulz and, most tragically, Chris Mainwaring, all spring to mind. Only those in deep denial could fail to note that there is a pattern here.

One explanation for this behaviour pattern is that there is something about the culture inhabited by elite celebrity sportsmen that leads to an acceptance of drug-taking. From a young age footballers are pumped and primed to perform one thing — and just one thing.

As professionals, they live, breathe, eat, drink, and sleep football. The clubs, the league and the sponsors treat them as though they are commodities to be bought and sold like any other. And like many other commodities they're dispensable; useful for a time, but have a definite used-by date.

With little in the way of education or life experience beyond the football field, and thrust from relative obscurity into the media spotlight where they're expected to perform as if they were machines, it's little wonder that they have limited insight to their actions.

Gary Ablett's comments last year regarding his battles with depression and drugs add weight to this view.

Ablett pointed to the "pressure to perform" and the fact that his sense of self-worth and security were based on the pursuit of success as factors leading to his fall.

Carey's career is similarly instructive. His on-field talents saw him quickly elevated to the status of captain of North Melbourne at 21 years of age and lauded as "The King".

Such treatment is unlikely to produce a well-balanced person who has the social and emotional insight to face life's challenges.

None of this is to suggest every football star is a dysfunctional, drug-addled time-bomb. Clearly, many are able to cope in the rarefied world of sports celebrity and live rich and meaningful lives.

Carey and other trouble-seeking footballers clearly have a choice. Those choices, though, are never made in a vacuum. They are conditioned and shaped by our environment and those around them.

Carey is the underbelly of a celebrity-obsessed culture that thrusts barely socialised young men into a world where they're pumped up to ridiculous heights and put under intense pressure to perform.

The next time the "Star footballer in drug/drink-fuelled fight" cliche headline appears — and there will be a next time — perhaps we should stop pretending it's all a matter of a few bad apples and start to reflect on the culture that produced them.

Christopher Scanlon teaches in the media studies and journalism program at La Trobe University.