Monday 23 April 2018

Dion Fanning: Time to stop kidding ourselves about this plague of addiction

Dion Fanning

Tom Maynard was a gifted cricketer. He was, according to one team-mate, a "leader of men". He was described as "the life and soul" of Surrey County Cricket Club. Team-mates, journalists and friends who knew him recalled an exceptional human being. After the inquest into his death in London last week, his family released a statement.

"The results of the inquest do not define our son. The fact that so many people thought the world of him is what defines him as a person. The only people who would judge Tom on the findings of the inquest are people who didn't know him."

The truth about Tom Maynard kept battling through the headlines last week. The gifted sportsman, the considerate son, the attentive and dedicated professional could be glimpsed beyond the headlines about a drug culture in cricket.

On the night Tom Maynard died, he drank four beers, two shots and 'up to' ten vodka and Red Bulls. He was pulled over by police on suspicion of drink-driving. Tests revealed that he was four times over the drink-drive limit. He had previously been warned by his county after he was hit by a car following a night's drinking. The headlines last week said he had a drug habit.

Tom Maynard had also taken cocaine and ecstasy and hair tests established he had been doing so for several months. In the wake of his death, there have been calls for stricter drug tests for cricketers. Some of these were framed sensibly. The Professional Cricketers' Association wants more out-of-competition tests but cricketers aren't banned if they fail these. Instead they are offered help.

The most sense, as ever, could be heard from those who understand the condition. Tony Adams founded Sporting Chance, the rehab clinic that specialises in helping sportsmen. Adams noted that if he was playing today he wouldn't have been able to drink as he did on his descent into full-blown alcoholism.

However, the addictive personality would have found a way. "I think I would have chosen maybe a different substance to abuse rather than alcohol," he told the London Independent.

Here was a moment of truth. Nothing can really stop an addict. Adams would have found a way to abuse something. Adams understands that there is no difference between drink and drugs to the addictive personality and it is pointless to be judgemental about either.

It has been estimated that 70 per cent of cases in A&E at a weekend are drink-related yet it was possible to hear evidence at Tom Maynard's inquest from people talking about how they enjoyed a drink "at the right time".

The tragedy of Tom Maynard's death was that it was not an exceptional or a sensational story despite how it was reported in many places. Tom Maynard drank four beers, two shots and ten vodka Red Bulls. His night out was familiar to many people, worryingly so for a minority who might recognise themselves in the behaviour. Those in denial will see his death as a tragic accident, a million-to-one shot, without acknowledging that if somebody drinks ten vodka Red Bulls there are no more million-to-one shots when it comes to tragic accidents.

Of course headlines about cocaine are more lurid than stories about drink but they also serve another purpose. They create a distance and an otherness which removes it from the reality of most people's lives. Drugs, even today, can be written off as the consequence of what happens when you rise too far, too fast. They are glamorous and verboten, and alien to how most people live.

When Amy Winehouse died, the headlines screamed about the dangers of drugs. This was a horror story of success, fame and wealth. The truth was different. Amy Winehouse died of alcoholic poisoning like so many do. The truth was no less tragic for its banality but it wasn't furtive or a story of how the rich and famous live.

The PCA are determined to help people and everything they said last week showed an awareness of the problem. The most logical thing would be to test for alcohol as well as drugs. There are many who can drink happily without consequences but there are also those who can take drugs socially without consequences. Sport, like society, can probably do no more than let people know what a problem might look like and where to go if they want to do something about it.

Cricket has plenty of evidence of the fragility of mental health. David Frith's By His Own Hand was a study of suicide in the game. "Cricket is only superficially a team game," Frith wrote. "Essentially it is an individual and lonely game, with multiple odds stacked against each contestant. In this, it is a fairly faithful reflection of life."

There was nothing glamorous about Tom Maynard's death. Creating a distinction between drugs and alcohol promotes an untruth. It is a convenient distraction for many because drink destroys more lives than drugs and facing up to this truthfully is something few are interested in.

Instead we accommodate a relationship with drink which could be described as ambivalent if it wasn't for the fact that ambivalence requires a degree of awareness about the darker side.

Instead we hail the drunkenness of Irish fans in Poland and condemn the trouble at Swedish House Mafia in the Phoenix Park, even though both these positions are simply public posturing, sentimental in one instance and cynical in the other.

They allow society to comfort themselves that we are great men for the drink except for those rare occasions – the million-to-one shots – when it gets out of hand, a big lie which hides the epidemic nature of the problem and accompanying denial.

A tragedy like Tom Maynard's should lead to a debate on the plague of addiction not a hunt for drug users under the bed or in the dressing room.

Anything that moves people further away from a position of understanding is damaging. Anything that makes it less likely that those troubled, as Maynard was, will seek help, is dangerous.

There was a profound truth as well as a deep sadness in the statement from the Maynard family. Only those who didn't know him will judge him on the basis of the inquest. Perhaps, more precisely, judgement will be made only by those who don't know themselves.

Irish Independent

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