NRL 2022: Paul Green’s death, Graham Arnold explains why players and coaches are turning to drugs, alcohol and gambling

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has opened up about the dangers of elite sport and the real reason he believes players and coaches are turning to alcohol, drugs and gambling.

Socceroos manager Graham Arnold has spoken about the unbearable pressures that head coaches and players face in professional sports, saying many are turning to drugs, alcohol and gambling in retirement.

Arnold’s comments come after Paul Green, former Cowboys Premier League coach, took his own life in Brisbane last Thursday – a death that rocked Australian sport.

“The most natural drug there is – but it’s the worst drug in the world – is adrenaline. It’s a brutal drug,” Arnold told the Daily Telegraph.

“When you lose that rush you’ve had in your body for years – and the adoration that you get from being a top athlete – it’s hard to deal with.

“Retirement can feel worthless – you feel like you have no purpose in life. I understand how you can turn someone into a feeling of worthlessness. When I retired I was really struggling mentally. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just wanted to stay at home.

“Some people can handle it – others can’t. But that’s why many coaches and athletes, after retiring — or having bad experiences — turn to a few things to keep the adrenaline pumping — cocaine, drugs, alcohol, and gambling.

“You have to get that adrenaline rush because it’s something that’s been in your body for a long time. If you don’t replace it, it’s so hard to deal with. That’s why I came to coaching – because I needed it.

“Coaches need a purpose every day. The love of the game is in your heart, that love is in your body that you miss it so much. You have to replace it and it’s very hard to replace unless you’re at the forefront and doing what you do best.

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“You can’t just stop and think everyone will still be there. Suddenly when you go away, within a week you are a forgotten person. You’re not in the headlines anymore, you’re not the star of the show. It’s a very hard adjustment.

“In the past, as a professional athlete, you had two lives – a professional life and a private life. Now it is just one life, there is no balance.”

As a rugby league fan, Green’s death devastated Arnold.

He doesn’t know the circumstances of Green’s death, but he knows what retirement can do to a professional athlete.

“It just shows you the pressure on the coaching side and on top athletes. Paul Green went straight from playing to assistant coach and then to coaching when he suddenly retired from the sport last year at the age of 48,” Arnold said.

“It’s like Michael Hutchence – you ask why?

“Many athletes assume a 100 percent adrenaline level after a match. You can’t sleep that night, you can’t sleep the next night, then the adrenaline starts to drop and next week it starts to rise again.

“Look at what Paul did in North Queensland. Win Grand Finals and Admiration. People don’t understand the adrenaline side. It’s such a big mental aspect of elite sport. I’ve been talking to players for years about how to deal with it and what they need to do.

“Every rugby league player and coach goes on stage in front of 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 people. They do that for 10 years and then suddenly… gone.

“Look at former players like Joey Johns, Matty Johns, Braith Anasta and Johnathan Thurston – they get their adrenaline rush now when they’re on TV. They still have their identities because people still look at them. Others no longer understand that.

“If these people don’t have something worthwhile or meaningful in life, maybe another job or another industry, they take it hard. Elite athletes today are not just athletes – they are actors, performers, they are on stage and everyone has an opinion.”

Arnold also urged athletes to stop using social media.

“The worst thing is social media,” he said. “I can only encourage every player to get off social media – don’t look at it. It’s not good for your health. You rarely see anything positive on social media. It can affect you tremendously.”

Arnold led the Socceroos to November’s World Cup, and his side had to defy odds – and criticism – to secure their place in Qatar.

Taumalolo reveals Cowboys heartbreak for Green

– Michael Carayannis

A battle for Premier League heavyweight status was forgotten after Thursday’s loss of Paul Green. Cowboys co-captain Jason Taumalolo said there were “no words” to express the shocked death of his former coach.

Taumalolo was the only member of that big 2015 finals team to play on Saturday afternoon, but a host of other Premiership winners including Kyle Feldt and Jake Granville remain part of the Cowboys squad.

“It’s been a great couple of days,” said Taumalolo. “There are no real words to express what has happened over the last few days and how it has affected people in the rugby league community and families.

“I can’t imagine what (Green’s wife) Amanda and the kids are going through right now. Everyone should have someone to talk to, no matter how big or small the problem is. No one should carry that pressure around with them.

“I hope whatever if someone is going through it that they can talk to someone.”

For the record, the Roosters defeated North Queensland 32-18 to earn their fifth straight win to stay in touch with an unlikely top-four finish.

There was still stunned silence at the moment when the teams crossed their arms in the middle of the SCG just before kick-off. Back to April and there was a different feel when Green was introduced to the Roosters, loyal among some of the club’s legends.

Just months ago, he joined members of the Roosters, who won the Premier League in 2002, on a lap of honor at SCG as part of the club’s 20-year Grand Final reunion. It wasn’t Green’s only reunion this year, after they took to the field as part of the Cronulla old boys’ celebrations last Saturday.

This time people were incredulous when his picture was shown on the big screen.

A picture of Green, wearing the Roosters jersey during his 20-game stint with the Roosters and winning a North Queensland manager’s 2015 Premiership trophy, was shown on the big screen during the moment of silence.

Cowboys coach Todd Payten said the Cowboys and the NRL have helped players get through this difficult time.

“It’s been a rough couple of days, but that’s no excuse for not being able to get the job done,” Payten said. “We talked about doing well for Paul and his family.”

As bright sunshine shone on the ground, the Australian flag flew at half-mast in the Members’ Pavilion.

A banner reading ‘Thank you Greeny’ was also on display for a man who made a lasting impression at both clubs. Players from both sides wore black armbands.

Green was hired by Trent Robinson as an assistant in Robinson’s first season in charge with the Roosters in 2013. The Roosters won the title.

Two years later it was Green who celebrated Premier League success after leading the Cowboys to their historic first major finals victory.

Green played for the Cowboys and Roosters between 1999 and 2002.

Originally published as Socceroos Coach Graham Arnold on the pressures of coaching and playing elite sport NRL 2022: Paul Green’s death, Graham Arnold explains why players and coaches are turning to drugs, alcohol and gambling

Nate Jones

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