Day I asked Slipper if he used cocaine
THE toughest question I've had to ask in 39 years as a sports writer was to front James Slipper, face-to-face, on whether he used cocaine.
It wasn't in February after his first failed test was kept secret or this month after his second positive for cocaine but in 2015.
It was at the height of the Karmichael Hunt cocaine drama which so suddenly spun the Queensland Reds and rugby into chaos.
I considered the whispers that Slipper might be the next in strife as a neighbourhood myth but checked it out anyway.
Slipper is one of the most decent rugby players you would ever meet which is perhaps one reason why it felt possible to ask.
The recoil and horror in Slipper's face when the question was asked, privately, suggested to me he'd been accused of murder.
OK. Apology. Had to ask. Let's move on.
He was the Reds skipper at the time and knew, from close range, how the Hunt saga adversely affected the team and damaged the code.
Slipper saw Hunt's reputation trashed, a five-game ban imposed, saw a code smashed and lived that constant theme for weeks.
With those consequences and warning lights so in his face, it defies all logic to be using cocaine yet here we are analysing that exact issue.
A family health crisis is definitely impacting on his mental wellbeing and has perhaps put him in more situations where bad choices are more likely.
A two-month suspension will be the start of dealing full-time with his demons but there must be penance paid for letting down the code so badly.
He needs welfare support but as a senior Wallaby and Rugby Union Players Association board member he also has a long road to earn trust again.
In the weeks ahead, opting out of Test rugby consideration for the rest of the year would be a strong sign from Slipper.
The Queensland Rugby Union also has a potential dilemma of double standards.
It's difficult to have two drug-tainted players and, on the one hand, wish for Hunt to find a new home abroad and imagine reintegrating Slipper in the future.
Coach Brad Thorn has set new team culture standards.
He will feel severely let-down and will wholeheartedly want Slipper to regain his mental health.
As for a position in Thorn's team, that's the tough hurdle for Slipper way down the track.
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