Former Adelaide Crows player Bryce Gibbs has become the third ex-player to speak out about the infamous 2018 pre-season camp.
In his recently-released autobiography, Eddie Betts provided extraordinary, raw detail on the experiences he underwent on the camp, with former teammate Josh Jenkins subsequently delving into his own adverse experience on the camp.
Speaking on ‘Saturday’s in SA’ on SEN SA, Gibbs became the latest to offer his in-depth account.
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FULL COMMENTS (via SEN SA)
Bryce Gibbs: It started back when I arrived at the club, in the trade period, whenever it was in October, November, and it was put to us that they were going to go on this camp in the new year. And I just arrived at the club and the biggest thing for me was to earn respect from your teammates, and build relationships as quick as you can. So I do remember sitting in that meeting with some more senior players, and the club expressed that the camp was going to go ahead and there was going to be a couple of different groups, group one, group two, group three, and we sort of had to decide who was going into group one.
For me, it was sort of explained that that was going to be the most intensive group. And for me, I saw it as an opportunity to fast track relationships with these guys, these new teammates of mine that I was going to be playing with going forward, so that‘s the sort of way I looked at it. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the most intense group, as I said, to try and fast track these relationships with these guys.
So from there, a couple of things were a little bit strange, we were told we were going to be told no information about what we’re going to do. That was a part of the program and part of the camp, that‘s that’s how they wanted to go about it. Basically, you’ve just got to trust us that you’re going to be okay. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be challenging, but you’ll be okay, which I thought was a little unusual, I‘m not going to lie there. But still, I kept an open mind and decided to still continue to be in group one as I said for reasons to try fast track relationships with my teammates.
Like others have stated during the week, I also took a call from a counsellor to talk about my childhood and past experiences. I actually thought this was a bit of a red flag as well from my point of view, and during this interview process I actually didn‘t really disclose too much. I was pretty lucky enough to have a pretty good upbringing, a really great childhood, which I‘m very grateful for. So I didn’t have a lot of trauma, so to speak, growing up, but even still, knowing that, I was still pretty calculated in what I was telling this person, I didn’t trust them. I didn’t know them. I thought it was unusual to be doing that leading into a camp, so I was very calculated in what I said and didn’t really give too much away.
Leading into the camp, I remember talking to a lot of the other players about what could we potentially be in for and it actually started to cause a little bit of anxiety at times in terms of what‘s going to happen, what are we going to get put through? How hard is it gonna be? Just trying to answer those questions. I think that probably built up leading into the camp for some of us. I still was determined to put my hand up and give it a go and see what was going to come out of it.
Obviously from then we ended up on the Gold Coast and that‘s when things kicked off. A lot of unusual things started to happen. It’s been well spoken about already about getting rushed down a set of stairs, into a bus with the windows blacked out, we were blindfolded, heavy metal music was playing full bore, this guy on a microphone potting players, talking about the grand final, talking about me and leaving my old club, which didn’t affect me too much, because I didn’t have the emotional baggage from the year before in terms of playing in the grand final and losing it. That didn’t really have an effect on me, I actually found it quite amusing at times, knowing that they’re trying to rattle us, trying to get under our skin.
It sort of didn‘t affect me too much. We weren’t allowed to talk on the on the bus too and I remember that they pulled over and they made a big scene about someone spoke and they pretended to kick someone off the bus, which was a little bit strange. So all these little things that kept happening that was strange, but didn’t think too much of it – reflecting back, it was obviously plenty of red flags that were happening as the camp went on.
When we were there, activity started to happen. And a couple of strange rules were put in place like when we were walking from place to place we were to walk in a straight line, we weren‘t allowed to talk to each other, they wouldn’t let us shower, they’d taken our mobile phones off us, we weren’t allowed to speak to anyone from back home – and guys had kids and that was a bit of a touch point as well that, you know, why can’t I ring back home and check in with my kids at night? So there were a lot of things that happened that was just, it was hard to justify why we needed to do some of these things.
Then we witnessed what we were going to be put through in group one. I think it‘s been described as a harness ritual, which I suppose that‘s what you could call it. And we got demonstrated this by a random person that we didn‘t know and it was actually hard to explain what we were witnessing. Like it was a bit like: ‘What is going on here? This is strange.’ I remember looking over to a couple of boys and shaking their heads and going like: ‘What are we in for here? What are we going to get out of this?’
But again, I just kept telling myself, ‘it’s okay, things are going to be right. I’m here, I’m going to keep an open mind.’ And again, I kept coming back to this relationship thing, this is going to help me build stronger relationships with these guys moving forward.
Once the first guy went, the first player went on this ritual, I think it was then, whether you thought it was right, wrong or indifferent, I think I felt like I had to do it. I couldn‘t pull out now. One person had gone, I had to go through with it. I had my time on the harness and experienced what I experienced and it was completely different to what some of the other guys experienced on the harness. And it probably related back to me being pretty reserved in that counsellors meeting, I didn‘t give too much away and I probably wasn‘t attacked with some of the stuff that other guys were attacked with.
That made the experience for me probably a little bit easier on reflection. But there were certainly people in my face telling me that I left my old club and I was an average player and whatever, but I could cop that, I could get through that. But watching other players go through what they went through, that was pretty tough. I didn‘t really know what to do, I didn’t really know how to justify it, what to make of it.
Andrew Hayes: Did you want to stop at any stage, but felt like it wasn’t your place given you were the new guy?
BG: I felt like we were in a bit of a state of mind, this whole experience was happening around us and a couple of guys spoke up about their concerns and it was sort of negotiated that would continue on with what we were doing and sort of I think Eddie [Betts] used ‘brainwashed’ as he described it, but I don‘t know. It’s just the state of mind in the moment, we just continued doing what they’d set out to do. And it probably wasn’t until later on reflecting on it that yeah, there was probably [an] opportunity to speak up a bit more.
Obviously getting spoken to and getting educated on what to say to family and friends and even the other guys in the other groups, we were told not to go into detail about what happened. For whatever reason, most of us stuck to that at the time.
Obviously, the details of what‘s happened has come out during the week, so I don’t really need to repeat any of that. But probably the most disappointing thing for mine was the post-game in the wash-up, when we were reflecting on it and guys started to speak up who had issues with what had happened and talking about their experiences and that this wasn’t great.
This is where when I reflect I feel like I was really disappointed in myself, because this is when I started to take a back seat. Watching guys stand up and say this is not on, we need to address this, we need to tell people what happened, they seemed to get shut down pretty quickly. And for me to see these guys as brave as it was to get up there and try and have their peace and to get shut down – these guys had been at the club for a number of years had a lot of respect within the group. I felt like if I was to get up and say something, how was I going to have much pull or much weight in it as I‘d only been there for five minutes?
On reflection, I’m disappointed I didn’t because there was an opportunity there to support some of my mates as they went through a lot harder experiences emotionally than I did. So maybe it was easier for me just to sit back and not say anything. But reflecting on those comments or ongoing conversations, when we‘re trying to flush it out, I do regret not speaking up when I probably should have been a more experienced and senior player of that group. And it did fracture the playing group and fractured relationships in the football department, players lost trust with members in that football department.
We tried to move on where that was obviously the wrong thing to do. And that‘s probably why we’re speaking about it four years on and if it was handled correctly and people had taken responsibility and put their hand up and knocked it on the head a lot earlier when it happened, it still would’ve been hard and people still went through what they went through and still people will carry some emotional scars from it, but at least it would have been dealt with in the proper manner then and there.
AH: Is this relief now that this has all come out?
BG: It‘s more relief for the guys that were put through more of a mental challenge than others. The two guys that have spoken about their experiences during the week, I didn’t experience that to that level because, whether I didn‘t disclose information that would have opened me up to have that experience, but yeah it was extremely hard to hear the guys speak this week, and what they went through and reflecting on it all, like, it just shouldn‘t happen, really. It was easier for me to move on because I didn’t have that level of experience, and trauma put to me, I found it easier to suppress it and squash it and just try and move on personally, which I was able to do, which made it easier for me.
I even start reflecting now like, that group that went into the 2018 and ‘19 season, not a lot of personnel had changed from that 2017 group who had an unbelievable year football wise, made a grand final, fell short at the last hurdle. But the way it fractured the group and the way the club declined, and our performance has declined. Would I have played more games at the Adelaide Football Club if this camp didn‘t go ahead? Probably. Am I blaming the camp for my career ending the way it did? Absolutely not. Was it the start of things to come? Absolutely. It wasn‘t the be all and end all but I felt like the decisions made to do some of these things, it ended careers. The backlash it’s had for guys mentally, you can’t erase that from memory.
I can talk on reflection now. I was disappointed with the way I handled it post the camp. I felt like I could have been a voice, I could have supported these guys more in a group environment in challenging some of the decisions that were made during this time. And if I had my time again, I would do things differently.
AH: One question has come through as well, in regards to you saying you weren’t really allowed to say anything, was that negotiated by the camp people, or the club?
BG: We were educated by the camp people in terms of what to say to family and friends and other teammates. And then I think post the camp when players wanted to come out and speak, we were advised not to. Things were signed, documents were signed on their behalf by the club about confidentiality. And I think because there was the lack of governance around it, that people didn‘t act, people didn’t speak up – not knowing what would happen if they did. I think that’s why a lot of people probably played a straight bat in the media and tried to play it down, because if we’re not allowed to speak and if guys were worried about the ramifications of speaking and talking up, like, that plays a part in it as well. It made it extremely hard for guys to come out and actually say what had happened and that‘s why it’s lasted four years I suppose.