Bryce Gibbs reveals regrets around controversial leadership camp

“It ended careers. The backlash it’s had for guys mentally … you can’t erase that from your memory.”

Gibbs said many of the players had tried to move on from the events of 2018, but that was “obviously the wrong thing to do” and was the reason the camp was still being discussed four years later.

Bryce Gibbs speaks to the media after announcing his retirement from the Adelaide Crows and his AFL career.Credit:Getty

On reflection, he said the pre-season camp “shouldn’t have happened”. The Adelaide Football Club and AFL have since apologized for the camp.

On Friday, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he had been “wounded” by the pain Betts had felt since the controversial camp, but insisted the league had no formal reason to act against the club or camp organizers.

An AFL investigation in October 2018 cleared Adelaide of any industry rule breach and a SafeWork SA investigation last year cleared the Crows of breaching health and safety laws.

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However, McLachlan said on Friday that there had been “disgraceful things done” at the camp.

Gibbs said that shortly after being traded to the Crows, he received a call from a counselor ahead of the pre-season camp to discuss his childhood and past experiences, which he said was “unusual” and a “red flag”.

He said while he had been lucky to have a childhood with little trauma, Gibbs was “pretty calculated” in what he told the counselor and did not disclose certain things because he did not trust them.

Betts, Jenkins and Gibbs were all included in Group 1 of the camp. Jenkins said he was told ahead of their arrival on the Gold Coast that Group 1 would experience the “most intensive” version.

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During the camp, players were put into a body harness with a rope attached and told to try to fight their way towards a knife to cut themselves free, while teammates holding the rope physically obstructed them. The initiation also involved camp instructors hurling verbal abuse.

He said his experience on the harness was “completely different” to that of his teammates, potentially because he was reserved when speaking to the counselor. Gibbs said he had people up in his face and was told he was an average player who had to leave Carlton.

“But watching other players go through what they went through, that was pretty tough,” he said.

“It was easier for me to move on because I didn’t have that level of experience and trauma put to me. I found it easier to suppress it, and squash it and just try and move on, personally.”

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After the camp, Gibbs said some of his teammates wanted to tell people what happened during the camp, but were “shut down pretty quickly”.

He described the actions of those who tried to speak out as “brave”.

“When I reflect, I feel like I was really disappointed in myself because this is when I started to take a back seat,” Gibbs said.

“I felt like if I was to get up and say something, how was I going to have much pull or much weight in it, as I’d only been there for five minutes.

“On reflection, I’m disappointed I didn’t because there was an opportunity there to support some of my mates as they went through a much harder experience emotionally than I did.”

Gibbs said the decline of the Adelaide Crows and the way his career ended could be partly attributed to the events of the 2018 training camp.

“Would I have played more games at the Adelaide Football Club if this camp didn’t go ahead? Probably,” he said.

“Am I blaming the camp for my career ending the way it did? Absolutely not. Was it the beginning of things to come? Absolutely.”

Jenkins said this week that an Adelaide Crows doctor filed a report about the welfare of players who attended the pre-season camp, but he alleged that the contents of the report were not acted upon.

Josh Jenkins and Eddie Betts in 2016, before the camp.

Josh Jenkins and Eddie Betts in 2016, before the camp.Credit:Getty Images

In a 16 minute-long prepared statement, Jenkins said club doctor Marc Cesana had written a detailed report based on what players told him had happened at the camp and the impact it had on their emotional welfare.

“No one has ever acted on that report, which I know is damning,” Jenkins said.

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