Why bad behaviour is good for your career. But only if you're a sportsman.

This story includes descriptions of domestic violence and drug addiction.

While footy fans might speculate about the winner, in the days leading up to the AFL’s Brownlow Medals, the media (and let’s be honest, most of us) are usually more preoccupied with the glam outfits worn by the WAGs. 

This year though, the media was abuzz about something else. The return of 'troubled' AFL 'legend', Ben Cousins. 

The comeback! The return to glory!

Image: Getty


"Ben Cousins' appearance lights up AFL's Brownlow Medal amid sweet family detail," one outlet wrote.

Another described it this way: "How Ben Cousins regained crown as city's prince," while a third gushed: "Cousins in stunning Brownlow medal return." 

The Cousins’ Brownlow excitement comes just months after the former West Coast Eagles captain - himself a Brownlow medal winner - was announced as Seven News Perth’s new sports presenter. 

"AFL legend Ben Cousins has continued his stunning life turnaround having started at Channel 7 three times a week as a sports reader in Perth,” it was reported.

Another outlet wrote: “Cousins has slowly pieced his life back together after a long and public battle with a drug addiction that started during his career.”

Here’s what most media outlets didn’t mention, or glossed over: Ben Cousins was jailed for seven months for stalking his former partner, Maylea Tinecheff - the mother of his children. A Violence Protection Order was in place at the time. 

During the trial, Tinecheff told the court Cousins was abusive to their children when under the influence of drugs. She said she was scared when she realised Cousins knew where they lived, after they'd secretly relocated. 

Despite the serious charge, society and the media continue to celebrate the newly clean-cut Cousins - complete with designer suit and cute dimpled smile - choosing instead, to focus on his 'life turnaround'. Much more palatable. 


“I have followed the media coverage in recent weeks and repeatedly wondered about the one-sided focus on Ben Cousins as a celebrated athlete who's returning to Australia's TV screens. I think the biggest issue here is that it completely erases the experiences of his ex-partner and children,” says Professor Silke Meyer, Adjunct Professor at Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre.

But Professor Meyer says she’s not entirely surprised. 

“Australia, community and media wise, seem comfortable celebrating male athletes for their performance 'on the field' regardless of the harm they cause to women and often equally their children 'off the field'. 

This, she says, is a serious problem for two key reasons:

Firstly, it sends a message to other athletes that if you're famous enough, you can get away with inappropriate and harmful behaviours, including violence against women (and children), and secondly, it sends a message to young men that it's ok to use violence against women and girls if you are a celebrity, while telling women and girls that their experiences don't really matter if the perpetrator is a 'respected member of the community'. 

Cousins is far from an anomaly. Dozens of elite athletes before and after him, have been accused, or convicted, of violence against women, only to have their careers, not only survive, but thrive. 

In 2007, former North Melbourne captain, Wayne Carey, pleaded guilty to two counts of battery of a law enforcement officer and one count of resisting arrest with violence, following an incident in Miami. Police were called after Carey tossed wine in his then girlfriend Kate Neilson's face, the glass cutting her mouth and neck. At the time, Carey said: “All my partners will say I've never been physically abusive, but have I been abusive mentally and also, I guess, intimidating? Absolutely.”


Image: Getty

Despite the charges, and his admission, Carey has continued to be celebrated as a reformed AFL star, maintaining lucrative contracts in print, radio and TV. 


It took Carey being caught with an unknown white substance for him to suffer any real consequences for his actions. Following that scandal, Carey was stood down from Channel 7 and 'relieved of his on-air duties' on Triple M Footy.

NRL great, Matthew Johns has watched his career soar, despite some initial backlash, after being part of a group sex scandal, which included an accusation of rape by the woman involved. 

Image: Getty


The woman shared her story anonymously with ABC at the time, claiming she accompanied Johns and another player to their hotel room. According to the documentary, while Johns was having sex with the woman, several other players entered the room, some coming through the bathroom window. The woman was just 19, and there were 11 Rugby League players involved. 

The woman reported the incident to police, but the players denied any wrongdoing, and no charges were laid. Johns appeared on A Current Affair with his wife to address the allegations, admitting to “consensual” group sex with the teenager. 

One of the investigating officers, Detective Sergeant Neville Jenkins, reportedly said the girl was “young, naïve, not worldly, just a growing-up teenager. But even for 19 she was quite young.” Johns remains a highly prominent and much-loved media commentator and personality. 

AFL player Jordan De Goey is all set to play in the 2023 Grand Final against Brisbane, despite pleading guilty to harassment last year, after being initially charged with forcible touching and assault, following an incident at a New York Night Club. De Goey previously came under fire after being captured on video making crude sexual gestures during a Bali holiday, and attempting to pull a woman’s top off. 

Image: Getty


It’s a similar story globally. World champion boxer, Floyd Mayweather, continues to make millions of dollars and participate in exhibition fights, despite being charged with numerous counts of serious domestic violence and harassment, pleading guilty to several of those charges. And let’s not forget fellow world champion heavyweight, Mike Tyson, who was convicted of a violent rape, but today enjoys a “loveable oaf” persona, making cameo appearances in movies and television shows. 

The question is, why? Why do we continue to celebrate athletes who are accused of, or worse, convicted of violence against women? Not to mention the countless sports stars who engage in other types of inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour towards women and get away with it. 


The other question is, what should we be doing about it?

“It absolutely sends the wrong message to celebrate convicted abusers, no matter the circumstance, particularly at a time when sexual, domestic and family violence is at epidemic levels across Australia,” says Full Stop Australia’s Kristoff Adelbert.

That’s not to say that men, or athletes, who use violence against women can't 'recover' - but they need to show some accountability and recognition of the harm they've caused, says Professor Meyer. 

“It's not enough to disappear from the bad news stories for a while and then come back with a newer, cleaner image.

“Men who use violence need to acknowledge the harm they've done and engage in behaviour change. It's hard work. It's uncomfortable. But it's necessary if we believe that domestic, family and sexual violence is unacceptable. 

“We can't celebrate a 'comeback' simply by sidelining and silencing women and children's experiences of violence.”

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: Getty