AFL Players’ Association president Patrick Dangerfield says the union would’ve taken more “immediate” action after the Crows’ 2018 camp “had we known all the information from the outset”, claiming two-way communication between players and the AFLPA was a “challenge” at the time.
It comes after AFL commentators were left stunned by a statement on Wednesday night from AFLPA chief executive Paul Marsh, who indicated much of the information about the infamous pre-season event detailed in Eddie Betts’ new book was “new information” to the union.
Betts became the first Crows player, past or present, to publicly detail a first-hand account of what went down at the Gold Coast-based camp in 2018. Several players, including Betts, and officials departed the club over the three years, in part due to the camp.
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In his recently-released autobiography, ‘The Boy from Boomerang Crescent’, Betts went into extensive detail about his experiences on the camp. He claimed private details shared in a counselling session were misused, while sensitive Aboriginal cultural rituals were misappropriated.
The AFLPA on Wednesday night indicated it would effectively reopen its investigation into the pre-season event and contact all players involved to seek a “better understanding” of what occurred during the trip. Marsh said he was concerned by several factors, including the “lack of psychological safety”, as well as the misuse of both Indigenous artefacts and confidential player information.
The players’ boss said his organisation feared some Crows players were “pressured into remaining silent” about the ordeal – a statement Betts confirmed during his confronting interview on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 when asked if players had told the AFLPA about what went on at the camp.
Betts said those running the camp told them not to say “anything to anybody”.
“We weren’t even allowed to tell teammates. To this day, our teammates still don’t even know what we did in our group … that’s how we feel very divided and the club kind of broke down from that point,“ Betts told AFL 360.
“I could see that we were all hurting and we tried to make change at that point. But it felt like you couldn’t speak up and it felt like you couldn’t tell all.”
Marsh appeared on SEN Breakfast on Thursday morning where he confirmed the AFLPA first became aware of possible issues from the Crows camp following media reports, but added players initially told the union “there was nothing to it”. Yet as more details emerged in the media over the following months, Marsh said trying to source information directly from players was “particularly challenging”.
Marsh said he’d even spoken with Betts at the time, but added a cone of silence element had been “drummed into the players” — and that included not disclosing everything “to us (the AFLPA), clearly”.
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“It’s not that we haven’t had conversations – and I’m certainly not saying we didn’t know there was a level of angst about this,” Marsh told SEN Breakfast. “But there are lines with these types of things – and reading about some of the things (Betts detailed), that’s for me where it’s been such a clear crossing of the line
“I’m open to a view from some maybe that we could’ve tried harder, so I’m not saying everything that could’ve been done was done. But we certainly tried to get to the bottom of what happened with players – and I don’t feel as though we did.
“Players I think were silent on this issue for fear reasons and some players had good experiences, so we understand some of the reasons as to why that happened. But it’s made this issue quite a difficult one.
“Maybe with Eddie now having spoke about it, it might empower other players to want to speak about it.”
Speaking on 3AW’s Sportsday on Wednesday night, Dangerfield – who was only appointed AFLPA president in March 2018, around one month after the camp took place – said it was “sickening” and “really concerning” to read what Betts endured. But he said it would’ve been hard for the union to take action immediately due to the circumstances at the time.
“We‘ve gone off the information we were given at the time. And quite clearly, it’s difficult to articulate that I think for the players that were there at the time when they’re still playing for Adelaide. So we, as much as we could and as best we could, got the information that was relevant,” Dangerfield told Sportsday.
“Had we known all the information from the outset, I think clearly a more immediate reaction would have taken place. But that wasn‘t the case.
“I don‘t necessarily agree with the fact that we didn’t do anything. I think we exhausted a lot of our resources around how we could support the players, but at the same time, you need that open, free-flowing communication between two – and that was a challenge.”
Veteran football journalist Caroline Wilson, who reported extensively on the Crows’ camp, on Wednesday night said she was surprised by Marsh’s statement.
“I repeatedly called Paul Marsh over an 18-month period, how he can say he wasn‘t aware … I’m shocked by that more than anything,” Wilson told Channel 9’s Footy Classified.
“I went to Taylor Walker’s house in March 2018 and we talked about the camp. He liked the camp, but he talked about Indigenous concerns and he said: ‘I said to my teammates, let’s get this Richmond game over and done with (the Crows were playing Richmond at the time) and then we’ll deal with it.’
“I called Paul Marsh after that and I said ‘you have got to talk to the Indigenous players’. And then I rang him with other terrible allegations from other players.
“How he can say this now … They get funded a lot of money, surely their investigative resources are better than that?”
Former Dockers and Saints coach Ross Lyon added: “I am shocked by the AFLPA, Paul Marsh in particular, saying that is new information. I hear ‘investigative resources’ (from Wilson), but something like this is as simple as the AFLPA CEO and whoever is senior, getting on a plane, flying in.”
The Age reporter Sam McClure was also left disappointed by the AFLPA boss’ comments.
“The statement from Paul Marsh, to put it bluntly, is convenient,” McClure told 3AW’s Sportsday.
“The AFL and the AFL Players’ Association had access to all the information that journalists reporting the stuff had access to. All they had to do was pick up the phone and have a private conversation.
“They’re now saying this is all new information and will go back and reinvestigate – I’m sorry that’s too little and too late for mine.”
The AFL also released a statement on Wednesday acknowledging the hurt Betts, as well as his family, his community and all Indigenous players, experienced as a result of the Crows’ pre-season camp in 2018, but didn’t indicate it would make more inquiries. The league conducted its own investigation that year that saw it make recommendations on improved governance and compliance, but concluded there was “no violation of industry rules”.
Wilson said she was disappointed with the AFL’s stance.
“Don‘t get me started on the AFL. They knew all of this and they did nothing,” she said.
“It required discipline and a punishment. The AFL is saying to me today they ‘broke no rules’ – what about bringing the game into disrepute or conduct unbecoming?
“Surely, what we’ve heard from Eddie Betts, is bringing the game into disrepute. How could they not take action? I mean, I know they put measures in place, but that wasn‘t good enough for mine.”
Crows chief executive Tim Silvers, who wasn’t at the Crows in 2018, personally reached out to Betts on Wednesday to apologise – an apology Betts said he accepted.
Premiership Magpie Dale Thomas labelled the camp an “amazing and disgusting misuse of trust and power” by the Crows.
“The fact that this has been swept under the rug and Adelaide were cleared of not doing anything wrong is mind-blowing,” Thomas told Triple M.
“Where the hell are the AFLPA on this? Surely after that camp came out, they were going to their players and saying ‘right give us all the information, you don‘t have to hide under anything anymore’. And if this is what came of it and they didn’t act, it just blows my mind.
“This has clearly affected one player and if there‘s one that’d be you know, the rest of the list who would be in the same boat.”