The saga that just will not end…

Guilty.

One word, which this morning collectively rocked 34 footballers, a handful of administrators and thousands of fans to their cores. For all involved, their minds were stunned, their emotions numb, and their stomachs hollow as the ‘Essendon FC Supplements Saga’ finally reached its so-called end in wake of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s guilty verdict being revealed.

The resulting 12-month suspension handed down to the 34 past and present players was to some, too harsh, yet to others, just right. Once again, this ridiculous, drawn-out saga has divided opinions.

There are the Essendon FC fans who are left absolutely devastated with the news that their beloved Bombers are set to endure a fourth wasted season, where the opportunity to experience true success has been ripped away from them. Then there are the fans of rival clubs, many of which are, quite frankly, acting like obnoxious idiots in celebrating the fact that players are out for such a long period of time, or worse still, rejoicing in the fact that one of the game’s best and most humble players may lose his claim to the game’s most prestigious individual award. Then of course there is everyone else, who is sick to death of this story and just want to move on, instead focusing on the great elements of the game.

For the most part, I’ve reserved judgement on this three-year-long saga and instructed my team of writers here at TBLDaily.com to avoid the issue completely. Initially it was because of my obvious bias towards Essendon FC (a club of which I’ve been a long-time member of), however as the saga deepened it was simply to avoid the legal fallout. Has there ever been a saga in Australian sport with more leaked information, misinformation and scapegoating? Probably not.

Now that the final ruling has been delivered though, I’ve been asked by countless people today what my thoughts are – so I’m sharing them with you now.

First and foremost, I feel sorry for the 34 players. They are innocent, mark my words. The naive, uneducated fans from opposing clubs will ‘argue’ that they were ultimately responsible for what went into their bodies, however that ‘argument’ is flawed. These players were part of a club which implemented a new regime and they were told, numerous times, that what they were injecting into their bodies was not illegal. Whether it truly was (illegal) or not, we may never know, however they sought clarification and proceeded on that basis. I ask you this – how often do you follow advice from a professional? A doctor? A lawyer? A financial consultant? The list is endless. If you can’t see how these players have done nothing wrong, knowingly, you lack a basic level of intelligence.

Secondly, I am angry at the Club. Whether or not the substances were illegal or not, I don’t care and I’m not even entering that debate. However, at a bare minimum, the Club’s actions during this period were reckless and lacked good governance. If a proper duty of care was taken, I don’t think anyone would be in this position now. Despite my anger at the Club, I do feel though that it has served its fair whack – three ruined seasons, millions of dollars in fines and a massive clean out from a coaching and administration perspective. Nobody can argue it hasn’t been penalised.

Thirdly, I am nervous for Jobe Watson. The man is an inspiration both on and off the field. He epitomises the word leadership and I truly hope the AFL does not strip him of his Brownlow Medal. He was, by far, the best player in 2012 and he did not knowingly break any rules. The saga has claimed enough victims and created its fair share of heartache, it doesn’t need to create more. Thankfully, WADA/ASADA can throw their weight around on most things related to this saga however they cannot determine the outcome of this element. As such, I hope the AFL makes the right decision and lets Jobe keep Charlie.

My final thought is a dreadful one, and one which I hope to be proven wrong on… That being that Essendon FC may still be in for a lot more pain to come yet.

We all like to remain loyal to our employer, however when one’s own livelihood is jeopardised, that loyalty can waiver very quickly. The ‘Essendon 34’ have been united the whole way through this saga and their efforts to show support to the Club, and to each other, are second to none. With today’s ruling though, from a player’s perspective, will they now be forced to take legal action against the Club to protect their own interests? There is absolutely no doubt that these players have each suffered reputation damage, which may result in future loss of earnings related to:

• playing (AFL and non-AFL)
• coaching (AFL and non-AFL)
• media
• endorsements

If these 34 past and present players do decide on the legal route, be it individually or as a class action, the damages bill could potentially equate to many of millions of dollars. This leads me to two horrible questions which no fan ever wants to raise about the club they love…

1) Can Essendon FC afford a payout of this magnitude?
2) Will Essendon FC exist in its current state in five years time?

For those saying this saga is over, think again. I fear that the real drama may just be getting started…

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