Former Adelaide Crows footballer Bryce Gibbs has revealed his version of events from the club’s infamous pre-season camp in 2018.
Gibbs, who was traded from Carlton to the Crows at the end of 2017, has spoken publicly for the first time.
Speaking on SEN SA on Saturday morning, Gibbs recounted the horrific experiences he and his teammates endured during the camp – and the impact it had on the playing group following.
Read Gibbs’ full statement:
“We’ve obviously heard a couple of the guys’ experiences in pretty raw detail and it has been hard to re-visit that and listen to some of your mates express how they were feeling,” Gibbs said.
“Everyone experienced this camp differently. My experience, which I’m going to touch on, was certainly different to the guys that have spoken out already.
“It started back when I arrived at the club in the trade period in October or November and it was put to us that they were going to go on this camp in the new year.
“I had just arrived at the club and the biggest thing for me was to earn respect from your teammates and build relationships as quick as you can.
“I remember sitting in that meeting with more senior players when the club expressed that the camp was going to go ahead and there was going to be a couple of different groups. Group 1, 2 and 3.
“We then had to decide who was going in Group 1, and for me, they explained that that was going to be the most intensive group and for me, I saw it as an opportunity to fast-track relationships with these guys and new teammates of mine that I was going to be playing with going forward – that’s the way I looked at it.
“I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the most intense group, as I said, to try and fast-track my relationship with these guys.
“From there a couple of things were a bit strange. We were told that there was going to be no information about what we were going to do, that was a part of the program and the camp and that’s how they wanted to go about it, basically you just had to trust them that it was going to be okay, it’s going to be tough and challenging but you’ll be okay, which I thought was a little unusual – I’m not going to lie there.
“Still, I kept an open mind and decided to still continue to be in Group 1, as I said for reasons to try and fast-track relationships with my new teammates.
“Like others have stated, I also took a call from a counsellor to talk about my childhood and past experiences and I actually thought this was a bit of a red flag from my point of view as well.
“During this interview process, I didn’t really disclose too much, I was pretty lucky enough to have a pretty good upbringing, a really great childhood which I’m very grateful for, so I didn’t have a lot of trauma so to speak.
“Even still knowing that, I was pretty calculated in what I was telling this person, I didn’t trust them, I didn’t know them, and I thought it was unusual to be doing that leading into a camp.
“Leading into the camp I remember talking to a lot of the other players about what we could potentially be in for and it started to cause a bit of anxiety at times in terms of what’s going to happen, what are we going to be put through, how hard is it going to be and just trying to answer those questions.
“That built up leading into the camp for some of us, but anyway I was still determined to put my hand up and give it a go and see what was going to come out of it.
“From then, we headed up to the Gold Coast and that’s when things kicked off and a lot of unusual things started to happen.
“It’s been well spoken about already, getting rushed down a set of stairs to a bus where the windows were blacked out, we were blindfolded, heavy metal music was playing, there was a guy on a microphone potting players, talking about the Grand Final, talking about me and leaving my old club – which didn’t effect me too much as I didn’t have the emotional baggage from the year before in terms of playing in the Grand Final and losing it – so that didn’t have an effect on me and I actually found it quite amusing at times – knowing that they were trying to rattle us and get under our skins.
“We weren’t allowed to talk on the bus, I remember they pulled over and made a big scene saying someone spoke and pretended to kick someone off the bus which was a little bit strange.
“All these little things that kept happening that were strange and you didn’t think too much of, but reflecting back there were plenty of red flags that were happening as the camp went on.
“When we were there, activities started to happen and a couple of strange rules were put into place, like when we were walking from place to place we had to walk in a straight line, we weren’t allowed to talk to each other, they wouldn’t let us shower, they had taken our mobile phones off us, we weren’t allowed to speak to anyone back home and guys had kids which was a bit of a touch point as they thought why can’t I ring back home and check in on my kids at night so there were a lot of things that happened that was hard to justify as to why we needed to do some of these things.
“Then we witnessed what we were going to be put through in Group 1, and I think it’s been described as a ‘harness ritual’, we got demonstrated this by a person we didn’t know and it’s actually hard to explain what we were witnessing.
“It was like ‘what is going on here, this is strange’, I remember looking over to a couple of the boys and shaking our heads going ‘what are we in for, what are we going to get out of this’, but again I kept telling myself ‘it’s okay, things are going to be alright, I’m here and I’m going to keep an open mind', and I kept going back to this relationship thing in that this is going to help me build stronger relationships with these guys moving forward.
“Once the first player went on this ritual, it was then when whether you thought it was right, wrong or indifferent – I felt like I had to do it, I couldn’t pull out now as one person had gone, I had to go through with it.
“I had my time on the harness and I experienced what I experienced and it was completely different to what some of the other guys experienced on the harness and it probably related back to me being pretty reserved in that counsellor's meeting as I didn’t give too much away.
“I probably wasn’t attacked with some of the stuff that other guys were attacked with, that made the experience for me a little bit easier upon reflection.
“There were certainly people in my face, telling me that I left my old club, telling me I was an average player and whatever whatever, but I could cop that, I could get through that.
“Watching other players go through what they went through was pretty tough, I didn’t really know what to do, I didn’t really know how to justify, what to make of it.
“I felt like we were in a bit of a state of mind, this whole experience was happening around us and a couple of guys spoke up about their concerns, it was sort of negotiated that we would continue on with what we were doing.
“I think Eddie used “brainwashed” as he described it, but in the state of mind and in the moment, we just continued doing what they’d set out to do.
“It probably wasn’t until later on when reflecting on it that it was probably an opportunity to speak up a bit more.
“Getting spoken to and getting educated on what to say to family, friends and the other guys in the other groups, we were told not to go into detail about what happened and for whatever reason most of us stuck to that at the time.
“Post it all, obviously the details of what’s happened have come out during the week so I don’t really need to repeat any of that.
“Probably the most disappointing thing for mine was the post-camp and the wash-up when we were reflecting on it and guys started to speak up on those who had issues with what had happened, talking about their experiences and that this wasn’t great.
“When I reflect, this is where I feel really disappointed in myself, this is when I started to take a back seat, watching guys stand up and say ‘this is not on, we need to address this, we need to tell people what happened’, they seemed to get shut down pretty quickly.
“For me to see these guys as brave as it was to get up there and try and have their piece, and to get shut down, these guys who had been at this club for a number of years, had a lot of respect within the group, I felt like if I was going to get up and say something how was I going to have much pull or weight in it as I’d only been there for five minutes.
“On reflection, I’m disappointed that I didn’t, because there was an opportunity there for me to support some of my mates as they went through a lot harder experience emotionally than I did – so maybe it was easier for me to sit back and not say anything.
“Reflecting on those ongoing conversations when we were trying to flush it out, I do regret not speaking up when I probably should’ve been a more experienced and senior player of that group.
“It did fracture the playing group, it fractured relationships in the football department, players lost trust with members in that football department.
“We tried to move on where that was obviously the wrong thing to and that’s probably why we’re speaking about it four years on.
“If it was handled correctly and people had taken responsibility, put their hand up and knocked it on the head a lot earlier when it happened – it still would’ve been hard as people still went through what they went through – and people will still carry some emotional scars from it – but at least it would’ve been dealt with in the proper manner then and there.
“It’s more relief for the guys that were put through more of a mental challenge than others, the two guys (Eddie Betts & Josh Jenkins) that have spoken about their experiences during the week, I didn’t experience that to that level because whether I didn’t disclose information that would’ve opened me up to that experience but it was extremely hard to hear those guys speak this week about what they went through.
“Reflecting on it all, it just shouldn’t have happened. It was easier for me to move on as 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 which I was able to do, which made it easier for me.
“That’s my experience of the camp, obviously very different to a lot of people.
“I even start reflecting now, that group that went into the 2018 – 2019 seasons, not a lot of personnnel changed from that 2017 group who had an unbelievable year football-wise, made a Grand Final but fell short at the last hurdle.
“But, the way it fractured the group and the way the club and our performances declined, would I have played more games at the Adelaide Football Club if this camp didn’t go ahead? Probably. Am I blaming the camp for my career ending the way it did? Absolutely not. Was it the start of things to come? Absolutely. It wasn’t the be all and end all but I feel like the decisions made to do some of these things ended careers.
“The backlash it’s had for guys mentally, you can’t erase that from your memory, and as I said before, I was disappointed with the way I handled it post the game, I felt like I could've been a voice and supported these guys more in a group environment in challenging some of the decisions that were made during this time.
“If I had my time again, I would do things differently.”