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Soup of This Day #128: I Found A Thrill To Rest My Cheek To

January 22, 2012

Australian National Sports Museum
The Australian National Sports Museum, located within the confines of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It now incorporates the collection of the Australian Football Hall of Fame – Photo: Aaroncrick, 2009. Aaroncrick is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This blog runs on fragments and it’s author’s sometimes half-arsed attempts to weave them into coherent masses. In doing so I hope to extract something out of the resultant mess – Something worth thinking about.

I’m articulating this because I’m going to try telling 2 stories that I’m not sure are related and there is every chance you’ll read them and think ‘I’m not sure what he’s getting at.’

That’s ok. I’m not sure either.

Benjamin Luke Cousins was born in 1978, the son of Bryan Cousins, a Western Australian who had played 238 games for the Perth Football Club in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) and 67 games for the Geelong Football Club in the Victorian Football League (VFL), the predecessor of the Australian Football League (AFL). Some of that talent was handed down to Ben and in 1995, at the age of 17, Cousins the younger was drafted by the West Coast Eagles. He made his AFL debut a scant 6 months later and over the course of the next 12 seasons amassed 238 games in the blue and gold of the West Coasters.

Those numbers barely hint at the scope of Cousins’ career though – The midfield general was a ball-magnet and West Coast fans got used to seeing him wheeling away from a pack before raking a precise pass into the best attacking option on offer. He won the Rising Star award in 1996 and then delivered on that promise with All-Australian selection 6 times. In 2001 he was chosen to co-captain the Eagles, a role he clearly coveted for his own. He duly won that right and held sole posesion of the primary leadership position from 2002 until 2005.

That final year of captaincy was a stellar season for Cousins as he won the Brownlow Medal, the AFL’s award for the best and fairest. He also won the Leigh Matthews Trophy that year, awarded that MVP honour by his peers. To cap these individual honours, Cousins guided West Coast to a Grand Final, their 1st since a successful 1994 season finale. Ultimately they fell short this time out, losing to Sydney by just 4 points in a thriller, but the next year they gained revenge, edging the Swans in an even closer re-match, taking the Grand Final of 2006 by just 1 point. Cousins was no longer the official captain but he was clearly still the spiritual leader of his team and the photos of him holding the cup aloft came to symbolise West Coast’s 3rd Premiership.

Quite simply, Ben Cousins’ numbers are, by themselves, a certain Hall of Fame entry ticket. Underlining this – When respected AFL journo Mike Sheahan named his top 50 players of all-time in 2008 Cousins was at a very respectable 42 in the list.

42 is not bad when you consider that Sheahan was reviewing 150 years of footballing history.

A year ahead of Cousins and a world away, Benjamin Wayne Peterick was born in Salem, Oregon. An accomplished high school athlete his speed around the bases got him picked up in 1995 by the Rockies. He was marked as a solid prospect and backed that up with some good work at AAA level. He got his shot at the Majors as a catcher in the 1999 season, where he parleyed 62 at bats into 4 home runs and a .323 batting average. In 2000 the Rockies more than doubled his opportunities, giving him 52 games that netted just 3 long-shots but a better-than-decent .322 average.

In 2001 his game count again increased, that season notching 85 games, mostly behind the plate but also covering 1st. As his defencive opportunities increased though his offence started to wane. For sure, he clocked 11 home runs and brought in almost twice as many runs as the previous year (39 as opposed to 20 in 2000), but on the flipside his average dipped to .238. And that was pretty much it for Ben Peterick in baseball – He played just 38 games in 2002, hitting at .211 and in 2003 he did some work for the Detroit Tigers, his gun arm making some decent plays from the deep but he could only manage .225 with the bat. His OPS had declined from .981 in his rookie year to a rough .648 and even with that arm he just wasn’t able to compete as a slugger.

Unlike Ben Cousins, Ben Petrick’s numbers will not get him Hall of Fame entry. As projected, he was a solid player, the kind that makes up 95% of MLB rosters. He did his job well, without being a superstar and he can reasonably be very proud of his accomplishments.

So what ties these 2 Bens together, apart from sharing a name?

Drugs.

For Ben Cousins his curse was recreational drugs. A local hero making it big in a fishbowl market, he turned to alcohol and then cocaine to ease his passage through history. Recreational drugs are bad for you. Heroin, crack, ice, marijuana – I’m not a doctor or any form of health care worker so mostly I’m parroting what I’ve been taught but I’m pretty confident that I haven’t been led astray – These drugs are not good for you.

For a while Ben Cousins gave the lie to that statement. Ben had everything. And he was a cocaine addict.

Which must have been a problem for health educators throughout Australia. Don’t do cocaine or you’ll end up like Ben Cousins and… win… stuff.

For a time it looked like Cousins would have to pay for his transgressions – West Coast, finally tiring of the image hit, stopped denying the problem and cast Ben adrift. Even then though, after a stint in rehab, Cousins was picked up by the Richmond Tigers and he gave them another 2 seasons of serviceable football, notwithstanding the odd injury or 2. It seemed like Ben Cousins could take cocaine and make it anyway.

It wouldn’t, couldn’t, last.

By 2011 Cousins was unemployed in an AFL sense and still fighting the same breed of addiction that had cost fellow West Coast legend Chris Mainwaring his life.

Ben Petrick’s drug problem wasn’t recreational and nor was it performance enhancing, at least not in the conventional sense. Petrick suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

He had been diagnosed with the problem in early 2000, prompted to seek a diagnosis when he noticed shaking and an inability to use 1 hand correctly. At just 22 he was very young to be stricken but there was genetic form – His dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s late in 1999. Some folk get a genetic pre-disposition to play football. Others get Parkinson.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder that strikes at the central nervous system. It’s not fatal as such but it’s consequences are increasingly severe – Sufferers shake and twitch, seemingly with no control over limbs. Sometimes they can go into periods where any movement is like 1 through treacle, like 1 of those super slow-mo replays of a batter swinging at the plate. Simply, Parkinson’s screws with movement and although there are drugs that can be taken to offset this somewhat there is no escaping the loss of control of mobility.

Ben Petrick’s solid numbers were racked up in the hardest baseball league in the world, while he did not have complete control over his mobility. If you don’t think that’s impressive then let me add that until he retired in 2004 hardly anyone outside his inner circle noticed that he had a shortcoming. There has to be a spot in Cooperstown for that – There just does.

Meanwhile Roger Clements and Barry Bonds are up for Hall of Fame selection next year. They will get votes and maybe they will get in. It might not be right away but soon, voters will forgive and the stain of their cheating will have faded to a socially acceptable pallor. It will be justified by saying that purely on baseball numbers alone they are deserving.

The same will be said of Ben Cousins too. To be fair he didn’t cheat, but he did damage his health, much as Roger and Barry did and all 3 of them sent a message to some folk that drugs are ok, both recreational and performance enhancing.

Cousin’s price of entry to the Hall of Fame though is high – Just this week past he suffered a fall while in rehab and thereafter spent 5 days in a drug-induced psychosis. He’s now been admitted to a secure psychiatric unit and it seems that those close to him hold grave fears for his future. And it’s not just him that will pay – He has a partner and in September of last year the couple welcomed a daughter into the world.

Ben Petrick has a daughter too. A year or so ago he had a couple of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) procedures that have reduced his symptoms. 1 of the positive outcomes has been that he was able to walk his daughter back to bed at night when she wakes up early, something he had longed to achieve.

Seriously, that’s Hall of Fame stuff right there.

I Found A Thrill To Rest My Cheek To

One Comment
  1. Hello, there…”Big T.” Nice to meet ya!

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