What I am about to say – and what Eddie Betts has stated in his book – has been four years in the making.
I’m not overly proud or pleased to be here, but here we are.
I’m here largely because no one has taken responsibility for what went on and the acceptance that what went on was completely unacceptable.
This is my recollection of the camp. I wrote much of what I am about to read years ago because I knew this day would come.
In mid-to-late 2017, prior to the Grand Final and – obviously – the camp, we began role-playing activities, none of which really had any substance. Most was just stuff you could laugh at post-sessions. And often we did. The thrusting and screaming was dumb and mind-numbing, but we are resilient young men, we can easily swipe that away as nonsensical and pointless.
But, you’re desperate to atone for a lost Grand Final, so you buy in because you’re asked to and you want to believe it’s the last hurdle you need to achieve premiership glory.
After the Grand Final, during the following pre-season, maybe December 2017, we were told we’d be going on an intense camp to the Gold Coast.
Before our Christmas break, some of the core group were asked to stay back after a meeting to decide who were going to be the 10 players and two coaches joining in on the most intensive version of the camp.
The sales pitch was a red flag:
“This will be the scariest thing you’ve ever done but the safest thing you’ve ever done.”
Immediately, we all thought of physical activities, sleep deprivation, starvation etc.
How I wish that was the case.
I resisted big time…
I recall us going around the circle and accepting the challenge whilst a couple of players needed to be withdrawn due to injury issues as well as one player being removed because of some personal trauma he’d recently experienced.
Hearing he was removed because his personal trauma may be too much on top of what we were about to endure had ALARM BELLS ringing inside my head.
I consider myself as a matter of fact person, a realist, I’ll call it as I see it… to a fault – some may accuse me of being too cold and calculating (my wife would even accuse me of that on occasion and I thank her for her support the whole way through. She remains devastated and furious at the way our time in Adelaide ended).
BUT I had to be true to myself and true to my mates.
This all smelt terribly and in my heart I knew we were going down a bad path.
But off the back of a Grand Final loss, when I personally had played so poorly, I only had so much leverage.
After around 40 minutes of resistance, I agreed to be a part of Group 1 – in part because I knew it was a month or so away and I had time to work back channels to get removed.
No joy. I could not get out. Group 1 was for me.
As Eddie stated in his book… I also took a phone call with the supposed counsellor and – again, expressed my desire that my unusual upbringing was of no significance to me as an athlete or teammate.
I – in a naive bid to allow these people to improve me – explained to this person how I was raised by my non-biological grandmother and have had no meaningful relationship with my parents.
My childhood is a source of shame, pain and pride.
I am proud I am where I am today despite any potential hurdles thrown my way as a young person, but I will always have the pain of not having a family to lean on in tough times or to celebrate with on celebratory occasions.
Even as an adult, small things can stay with you. I recall the awkwardness I felt when I didn’t have anyone to invite into the rooms for my debut jumper presentation. No matter how far you go, some things can always nibble away at you.
I explained my upbringing had probably led me to being more skeptical and isolated – with a determination to do things my way.
I also stated I was proud of the person I was and that in no way was my childhood of any relevance to anything I was doing as a professional athlete.
I stated more than once I wanted none of my upbringing to be used or even spoken of during or after the camp. Something which was promised to me – but in my view, a promise that was broken.
From there, we went to the Gold Coast.
Two words which vary from annoying for fans of the Crows right through to damaging for individuals.
We arrived on the Gold Coast knowing something big was in store.
The secrecy and lack of info was astounding.
Our welfare manager – who was receiving 90%+ approval ratings in the AFLPA surveys – was iced out of discussions and planning as well as everything afterward.
She fought the good fight for us players and I will always be grateful for that.
She no longer works at the Crows or in the AFL.
You know all the detail about fake guns, macho men, people dressed in costumes asking to be called Richmond.
None of that phased me.
I was thinking… you guys know that I know those AK47s are not real, right.
But as we began to do camp activities things went from dumb to disgraceful.
We sat under a tree and witnessed a man unknown to us go through the harness ritual.
The reasons why he was on the harness are up for conjecture, but I heard comments thrown his way – including some from him – about sexual misbehaviour and womanising.
Following that person’s harness ritual I got up from under the tree we were all sitting under – fronted Don Pyke and Heath Younie and said, “we lost a game of footy, we are all good people, this is rubbish and I think we should all leave”.
After a heated conversation between me and camp coordinators, and mostly to honour the greater good, they convinced me to stay and watch a few of my teammates go through the ritual first.
The youngest member in Group 1 went first.
Each player was scolded with abuse and physicality so they’d be physically and emotionally worn out.
This is where I’m happy to try and explain why some rituals were confronting and some were ‘nothing to see here’ and easily moved on from for others.
In my view… the boys who had had a more ‘normal’ or traditional upbringing without any real trauma or tragedy in their lives had very little to be poked and prodded about apart from the general back and forth about being a better team mate and person.
Those – like me, Eddie and perhaps others – had experienced different things that were more raw when focused on – especially when we’d been assured, essentially promised, nothing like this would be raised.
I specifically asked for assurance pre-camp that nothing regarding my childhood would be raised or used on the camp to spur me on or ‘break me down’.
It’s my belief this promise was broken. And I’m not certain I’ll ever forgive those involved for that.
Nor am I sure anyone has even truly taken responsibility for what went on and why it was allowed to happen.
When my turn on the harness arrived, I was fighting against three or four teammates who would then let go of the rope so I would fall to the ground – all of this was at the request of a camp facilitator – I guess he was some type of bush-psychologist and during the harness rituals, his word was gospel.
Looking back, the ‘rite of passage’ as it was labelled was strange.
There was also a man on a set of drums who said he was drumming in time with the beat of his heart.
At different stages, comments were thrown at me whilst on the harness in regards to the way I was raised and why I act like I do at the club and on the field.
Some were from teammates being prompted to verbally jab me and some were from camp facilitators who had obviously shared intel on me as a person.
I’m choosing not to reveal some of those comments because I know people who care about me are reading… but I can say for sure those comments were fed to the facilitators and I believe some of the info was passed along from people within our club.
I recall some of the barbs thrown at Eddie – and others – and recall glaring at one of our coaches who quickly picked up my emotions.
Everyone went through the ritual and on the last morning, we had a relaxed discussion with the facilitators – which is also when we were told how to discuss what we’d done with our teammates and family members.
I distinctly recall the role playing on what to say to partners and teammates.
I got into a chat with one of the facilitators who told me he occasionally gets voices in his head… I asked how do you get them to stop… he said he sits under a tree until the voices stop.
He said they took two days to stop so he sat beneath a tree for two days.
I only include that info to explain how misguided this whole situation was… how could you possibly allow someone of that nature to be in control of high-performing professional athletes?
That’s why I was so strong on the doctor and welfare manager being involved. They would’ve put a stop to this and I think the club knew it… hence their lack of engagement.
The club completely fell apart.
We were sworn to secrecy even from teammates on different versions of the group.
Myself and a coach stood up one session and demanded we tell each other what happened and the CEO or Football Manager (I cannot recall who exactly who) stood up and said we were unable to because the club had signed confidentiality agreements on everyone’s behalf.
I said, “I did not sign a damn thing”.
We continued to undertake activities like berating our captain for failing us on the biggest stage. Something that made me feel uncomfortable at the time and still does.
Some things you cannot unsay.
As fractures were beginning to become gigantic, portions of the playing group were beginning to say they were no longer willing to participate in the leadership program.
On one occasion when we met as a large group (some staff included) the outcome was to exclude the indigenous players from the program.
I stood up and said, and I recall vividly, because I knew it was the beginning of the end for me as an Adelaide Crow…
“You cannot be seriously considering isolating a fifth of our playing list in favour of this program.”
Countless occasions, players told me of their discomfort and unwillingness to be involved anymore and much of that messaging was left to me.
Which of course caused friction between me and the club.
In the end, when I knew where my future was headed, I looked forward to these conversations – which I regret because my time as a Crow has been significantly soured.
In the end, I was moved on from the Crows as a problem child, an argument starter and even in one piece of literature I saw labelling me as ‘cancerous’.
The only cancer at the club was the idea that taking us on a psychologically unsafe camp that was supposedly going to make us better parents, siblings and teammates.
I suppose overcoming the loss of your senior coach to a senseless murder and making the Finals two months later and making a Grand Final two years later was not enough.
It’s made us better because we’ve finally been able to reveal the truth about the nonsense we were forced into.
I hold my head high today.
Crows fans, consider this, my words are not an attack on the logo or the club. I love the Crows and what it provided my family and I am so proud my name will be on the No.4 locker forever!
But you cannot do things like this to people and not be held accountable.
The last thing I’ll say is this…
There is a report from our club doctor Marc Cesana, whom I sat with on countless occasions where he assessed my welfare and did the same with others…
He wrote a lengthy report off the back of his dealings with us as players and people.
No one has ever acted on that report – which I know is damning.
The report must see the light of day. It’s the only example of a medical professional who had day-to-day dealings with the people and players who were involved.
He was concerned about us.
He expressed his disappointment to me about what happened to us, but never disclosed the details of what he’d discussed with other players.
Hence why the report needs to see the light of day.
I recall, during one meeting, our doctor expressed in front of the entire playing group and most of the staff that what occurred on the camp was totally unacceptable – and I know the report captures that!
Today is a good day and a really sad day.
Listen to Jenkins read the full statement below.