A few years back, I was clicking through an Essendon fan forum and there was this post about “something big” about to drop at the Club. At the time, other fans speculated about absurd one-sided trades but the original poster intimated that this was nothing trivial.
Soon after, we had the “Blackest Day in Australian Sport” subsequently followed by media mud-slinging, days in court and a tribunal decision. As a fan, I sided with team and dutifully followed the party line. There was a truth that Essendon couldn’t reveal yet the media received supposedly confidential information that the Club couldn’t openly respond to. In all, my instinct as a fan was to back the Club and coach and treat the media and the AFL as oppressors. This was the typical emotional response in fandom - us versus them.
Over two years, I felt that information would eventually be revealed and as James Hird would say, “put this club in a very, very good position.” Alas, this never came to be and fans have taken their licks: the loss of (now) irreplaceable draft picks, an enormous hit to those cash reserves, and an eventual losing record that finally took the coach. Despite all this, there is still no end and there has been no faith-saving truth.
When Chip Le Grand’s book, The Straight Dope, was released earlier this year, the social response that I saw was glowing. As a fan, I avoided columns written by specific journalists because I didn’t feel that they were balanced. Chip was an unknown, except for some small mental scrap that he once had been at The Age. In this, I felt he had credibility since he wasn’t out hunting for clicks.
The book fills the gaps that was often neglected in the public sphere. Sourcing information from the volumes of interviews and court documents compiled throughout the Saga, The Straight Dope puts together the pieces about the characters and their intentions. This book satisfied my need for information; I have come to terms with the pain that my Club was poorly run and the flow on effects from that.
While satisfyingly chronological, the book breaks down the actions and infers the motivation of the various parties. For an event that dragged on for over two years, understanding how ASADA, the AFL and Essendon maneuvered for credibility through the actions of its individual agents gives the reader the best collective perspective on the Saga.
The Sports Scientists are put through a journalistic inspection - they are capitalists in the very worst sense, seeing a market opportunity in a grey area of legality and morality. Essendon management neglected to consult their own medical team, assuming that the right thing was being done. The sport’s governing body used an old boys’ network to get business done and would throw its weight around if it didn’t get its way. Finally, there was the body charged with identifying drug cheats but without the necessary legal powers or even the spending ability to send investigators to overseas when necessary.
In all, each party had their own failing. The book suggests that there are no winners. Except the lawyers.