‘Enough is enough’: Riewoldt’s emotional AFL plea after ex-teammate’s drug charge
Former St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt has implored the AFL and players’ union to do more for players exiting the system, speaking emotionally after his ex-teammate Sam Fisher was charged with drug trafficking.
The ex-Saints defender Fisher was charged with regularly trafficking large quantities of illicit drugs across state borders last week, after police raided a Sandringham address and seized methylamphetamine, 1,4-Butanediol and a Mercedes Benz, all alleged to be the proceeds of crime.
Police allege that drugs of dependence were regularly being concealed in white goods and sent from Melbourne to Perth.
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The 39-year-old, who played 228 games for the Saints from 2004 to 2016, did not appear at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court last Wednesday as he preferred to remain in custody.
“A lot of his close teammates knew he had some issues, but to this extent, once it was all laid bare last week, I think a lot of us were surprised at just how bad the situation had become,” his former captain Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy’s On the Couch.
“But it landed heavy, and obviously straight away you start thinking about Sam and the situation he finds himself in, and his family and those close to him, and you do a bit of reflecting around what more could you have done?
“A reflection on our group, the time we’ve spent together as teammates. It’s been a pretty tough week for all of those blokes.”
Speaking ahead of potential questions about the Saints’ playing group at that time, Riewoldt added: “There have been a lot of Sam’s teammates who have done as much as they possibly could, myself included, and some have gone to extraordinary levels involving conversations with family and friends.
“As a group we did as much as we possibly could for Sam but at a time like this, you really realise how out of your depth you are as a teammate, when a player is facing challenges of the kind Sam has faced.
“I understand those questions will come about us and our group and the leadership and all of that sort of stuff, but you put your head on the pillow knowing that you did as much as you could.”
Riewoldt believes a core issue behind Fisher’s problems, and other past players who are struggling, is a lack of support from the league and players’ union.
He suggested both the AFL and AFLPA “would concede that a player’s transition out of the game is the greatest issue facing the game”.
“This is not this is not about feeling sorry for players. Because players are paid really well, they’ve got all of these opportunities available to them as they go through the game.
“But somewhere along the line, it’s not working, because the condition that too many players are finding themselves in post-career is not at the level that it should be. And we can do more as an industry.”
The Saints great said he had spoken with the AFLPA about Fisher’s situation in the past but had a response that “wasn’t quick enough, and when a response did come, it was reactive and at times too late”.
“Players when they’re playing the game have time, money and little appreciation of what life looks like on the outside ... and drugs,” Riewoldt said.
Brisbane champion Jonathan Brown agreed players did not understand what was coming once they left the AFL bubble.
“The reality of what real life is post-football, or what the average Joe out there on the street earns, his working week and how much it takes to get to a certain level of wage,” he said.
“There’s a misunderstanding from players when they’re in the system, and fairly so too, because from the age 18 onwards, they’re getting 100,000 plus a year, so they have no concept of what reality looks like. ‘What’s the average wage? Probably 50, 60 grand?’”
Riewoldt, who has previously stated the use of illicit drugs in the game was “out of control”, believes the AFL’s current drugs policy gives players “wiggle room”.
It consists of a three-strike rule, with a suspended $5000 sanction, compulsory counselling and education problems for the first incident, a four-match ban and $5000 sanction for the second, and a 12-match ban and $10,000 sanction for the third.
However only one player, Hawthorn’s Travis Tuck in 2010, has been revealed to have recorded three strikes. Ex-Hawk Jon Hay said in 2020 he freely accessed the club’s medical cabinet during his time at the club, and that North Melbourne did not know he was on two strikes when they recruited him.
There are also loopholes such as players who have tested positive more than once being allowed to receive treatment, rather than serve a ban, if they’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition such as a mental health disorder by an outside doctor.
“Enough’s enough. There are not a lot of Sam Fisher-type incidents that we’re hearing about now, but there are a lot of players that are slipping through the cracks,” Riewoldt said.
“When they come out the other side, their lives are ending up in pretty horrific conditions. So let this be the line in the sand, enough is enough moment.
“This is a cautionary tale - something needs to be done because players and teammates can do as much as they like but they’re not experts in the space and they need help.”