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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Hawk midfielder Travis Tuck faced the Tribunal on the Tuesday following Round 22 as the first player charged with a third strike under the AFL's illicit drug policy. It was not through testing that his third offense was discovered, but rather from an incident during the Round 22 weekend. On the Friday night, he was found unconscious in his car outside a nightclub. He was rushed to a hospital where he was treated for overdosing on the party drug GHB*.

Police, who are not charging Tuck for possession, found drug paraphernalia and a vial of "liquid" in his car. While he was being treated in the hospital, it was learned that he has been being treated for clinical depression for the past 10 months. He had been making excellent progress until this relapse. It is believed the relapse came as the result of the club informing him several days previously that his future was in doubt and that he was not selected in the Box Hill team (Hawthorn's VFL affiliate) for their Final's game. At his hearing, Tuck admitted to the use of drugs and the two previous strikes against him. He also said that he had been under personal pressures at the time.

The hearing, which was closed to the media, heard testimony from medical experts, several of whom have been treating Tuck. It was said that he had been being treated for depression and had been making excellent progress. He had also been treated and counseled for his previous two drug strikes under the AFL guidelines. Under those guidelines, only the AFL medical officers are notified. After a second strike, the club doctor is notified. After a third offense, club officials are notified and the offender goes before the Tribunal which determines sanctions.

The Tribunal took into consideration all the medical testimony which was presented. One medical advisor told the Tribunal that it would beneficial for Tuck to remain on Hawthorn's playing list so he could be in a structured environment which would provide support for him during his treatment and give him motivation to improve. The panel then rendered their decision. They waived the $5000 fine but Tuck was suspended for 4 weeks from AFL football and a further 8 weeks from VFL football. They said that due to the compelling circumstances, the usual penalties under the AFL code would be too harsh. However, they also issued stipulations with which Tuck would have to comply. They are:

- Tuck must submit to testing three times a week for a period to be determined by the AFL medical officers.

- he must fully cooperate in providing a urine sample upon request for testing.

- continued cooperation with AFL medical staff, attendance at a prescribed drug rehabilitation program, and any psychiatric advice and treatment as may be directed by his doctors.

Should Tuck test positive again or breach any of the instructions listed above, he could again be referred to the Tribunal for further penalties.

Tribunal chairman John Hassett concluded that the AFL policy's main goal was to look after the welfare of the players and said it was that focus which led the Tribunal to its final decision. AFL Operations Manager Adrian Anderson thanked the Tribunal and AFLPA, Hawthorn, the AFL medical staff and Tuck's doctors for their assistance in ensuring that Tuck could continue his football career.

Hawthorn will keep Tuck on their list but not the senior list. He will still be allowed to train and play with Box Hill. If the club opts to delist him, he will still be a member of their training squad through Box Hill and he will be allowed to play in the 2011 preseason games. The club will have then have the option of selecting him in the 2011 rookie draft. If not selected, the club would still have the option of placing Tuck on the newly established inactive list and then have the further option of relisting him at the end of next year.

As a result of the hearing, a storm of controversy erupted with club officials and fans divided on whether or not clubs should be informed after a first strike. Hawk President Jeff Kennett, who is also President of the depression support group beyondblue, and Hawk CEO Stuart Fox both fired a broadside at the AFL's policy of keeping player names confidential until the third strike. Fox said after the hearing that if the club had known prior to the incident, they could have helped Tuck through their own support network and the whole incident could have been avoided. Kennett has been opposed to the policy for some time and both he and Fox have written to the AFL requesting an overhaul of the League's policy.

Officials from Adelaide, Essendon and the Bulldogs are on Kennett's side in believing that club officials should be notified if a player returns a positive test for a first time. Collingwood Coach Mick Malthouse also supports that idea. Many believe that while it does not need to made known to everyone at the affected club, it would be better to have club medical staff and at least one person in administration be informed of a first offense so they can deal with it.

On the flip side, Melbourne's Cameron Schwab, Richmond's Brendon Gale, North Melbourne's Eugene Arocca, medical experts, AFL Operations Manager Adrian Anderson, and AFLPA CEO Matt Finnis support the policy of confidentiality. Gale, who preceded Finnis with the AFLPA and was one of the architects of the policy, said that confidentiality was paramount and that medical experts were better equipped to deal with the issue than club officials. Schwab said that if a player were exposed early on, in an atmosphere in which there is often movement of people from one club to another, it could prove to be a distraction. Arocca expressed sympathy for Hawthorn but said it should be left to the medical experts. He also said that if another club person should be informed, it should be a welfare officer. Gale said he could empathize with the frustrations felt by the clubs now that he is Richmond's CEO, but reiterated that the current method of confidentiality, counseling and treatment is the best way.

AFL CEO Matt Finnis supports the current policy, saying that Tuck could have faced even more pressure had he been forced to reveal his condition, drug issues and treatment to club officials. He said that sharing medical information with club officials would be inappropriate. The AFL's Adrian Anderson concurred, stating that getting Tuck into counseling after his first offense avoided an even more serious situation. He further stated that Tuck's struggles could have been exacerbated had his condition been publicized. Hawthorn Coach Alistair Clarkson said the revelation of Tuck's condition explained why he was out of form and struggling in games. The current policy expires in February.

After the hearing, Tuck issued a statement of apology saying he accepted the Tribunal's decision and took full responsibility for his actions. In his statement, he said "I have been dealing with personal and medical issues for the past 12 months and following ... intensive treatment I really felt that I had come a long way. It (the overdose) was a big setback ... and I understand the anxiety it has caused my family, friends and ... Hawthorn ... and for that I am truly sorry. I know I have to keep working hard to deal with my issues and ... this will not be easy ... I have had excellent medical assistance and will continue this treatment ... I'd like to thank the Hawthorn Football Club for their support ... and the ... support of the AFLPA and the AFL ... This ... and the ongoing structure in my life, along with the motivation to train and return to play will be a big part of my progress and my recovery."

The Tuck family has a long and distinguished history in football. Travis' father, Michael, is the League's games record holder with 426 games for Hawthorn to his name. He is married to Faye Ablett, sister to Gary Ablett Snr, making him uncle to Gary Ablett Jnr at Geelong, former Sydney premiership player Luke Ablett, and former Cat Nathan (now with Gold Coast). Travis' brother Shane currently plays for Richmond.

Tuck was drafted in 2005, debuted in 2007 and has played 20 games. He was named as an emergency for the Hawks' 2008 Grand Final team.

*gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (a naturally occurring substance found in the central nervous system, wine, beef, small citrus fruits, and almost all animals in small amounts). It can be used medicinally to treat insomnia, clinical depression, narcolepsy, alcoholism, fibromyalgia, and to improve athletic performance. It can also be used as an anesthesia. Illegally, it is used as an intoxicant and a date r-ape drug due to properties which can wipe out memory of events and cause a person to become compliant and suggestible. Some users take it for its numbing effects and hallucinogenic properties. It can be lethal combined with alcohol.For more information, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-Hydroxybutyric_acid.

Source: theage.com.au, heraldsun.com.au, afl.com.au, sen.com.au, AFL Record 2010 Season Guide

Article last changed on Monday, June 22, 2015 - 1:04 PM EDT


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