They say you should never judge a book by its cover.
It’s an expression which holds remarkably true for Crows recruit Ben Crocker.
The 22-year-old walked into Adelaide’s West Lakes headquarters sporting two full sleeve tattoos and an assortment of ink across his body, an unprecedented sight for a team previously referred to as the ‘cleanskin Crows’ when it comes to body art.
His tattoos have generated significant discussion across the Club’s social media channels since he was picked up in the Rookie Draft and even Ben himself admits he “may look like a ratbag”.
But perception is not reality.
To those who know him best, it’s clear there is much more to this young man than meets the eye.
In 2014, his father Paul was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 53 and now requires full-time care, which Ben played a big part in while living in Melbourne as a member of the Collingwood Football Club.
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His personal circumstances are a substantial factor behind his love of tattoo art.
“I think just having my situation just adds perspective on life,” he told AFC Media.
“Life is so short and I’ve seen that with my dad that I’m not going to second guess what I want to do.
“I’m going to enjoy being who I am, I’m going to express myself.”
First day introduction
Ben was one of seven draftees introduced to the wider playing group last Monday, their first day as Crows players.
Standing in front of 36 players plus coaches and football department staff, Adelaide’s National Recruiting Manager Hamish Ogilvie posed questions to each of the new arrivals.
“Benny Crocker, what can we all do to help you?” Hamish asked.
Without hesitation, Ben instantly made himself vulnerable in front of a large audience, many of whom he hadn’t had a face-to-face interaction with yet.
His heartfelt words were incredibly brave in a sporting environment where masculinity is traditionally ingrained.
“For me, it’s just understanding my personal situation. My old man has Alzheimer’s, he was diagnosed with it about six years ago,” he explained to the Crows playing group.
“Back then he still worked, he still did most of that, but now effectively he can’t do anything. I was wiping his arse and showering him at home.
“We probably don’t have too many more years left with him. There are times where I’m probably going to be a little bit stressed about that.
“Obviously leaving my brother and my mum to deal with it isn’t easy for me, so I reckon sometimes just understanding that my head’s probably somewhere else at times. That’s probably the biggest things you guys can do for me right now.”
Afterwards, Ben said he received great feedback from other members of the playing group who were really pleased he was willing to open up and share his story.
“As soon as I walked in, I felt pretty welcome by everyone,” he said.
“I just think for them to understand me fully as a person, it’s probably best for me to get myself out there and tell them.
“It’s not something I’m embarrassed about. It’s actually something I’m quite proud that I’m dealing with and I reckon it’s going to make it easier for me to connect with people if they know what’s going on with my personal circumstances.”
The reality of moving interstate
Ben was at Collingwood headquarters when he saw his name pop up in the Rookie Draft.
Predominantly, he felt excitement, but there was also a level of stress and sadness involved with the realisation that he would be leaving his family behind in Melbourne.
“We spoke about it as a family after Collingwood notified me I wouldn’t be playing there next year,” he said.
“We spoke about the fact if Dad knew what was going on and he could communicate, he’d definitely want me to come over here.
“There’s absolutely no way he’d want me to give up my dream of playing footy to assist him.”
As tough as it was to say goodbye to his family, Ben was comforted by the support he received the moment he arrived at West Lakes.
“Melbourne’s an hour flight and they (the Crows) have already said that I can fly back on weekends and visit,” he said.
“There’s no worried feelings at all, the Club’s been awesome already.
“I think the major thing Nicksy’s trying to spread is this being a family club and I’ve felt that already and I’ve been here for a day.
“I know when I was at the airport my Mum started crying so it’s going to be a little tough on her but I think she just needs to know that I’m in good hands here, the people seem very caring and there’s no need to worry.”
His message to others
It wasn’t always easy for Ben to open up. In the early days of his dad’s illness, sharing his experiences with his teammates was not something he was ready to do.
As a male in his teens, speaking up about life’s challenges was considered out of the ordinary.
When he was drafted to Collingwood in 2015, he didn’t know where he sat with the situation, but as the weeks and years have elapsed, Ben can see the growth he has made as a human being.
Today, he can describe himself as a “fine young man that I’m actually really proud of.”
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“I think the main thing is don’t be embarrassed about it, it’s out of your hands,” Ben said.
“When I was young, I used to be embarrassed I had a father that was ill because none of my friends were going through that.
“I look back at all the things that dad did for me when I was a kid.
“I was such a fortunate kid. Went to a great school, always lived in nice houses, so a bit of me feels like I have to give back and I want to give back to him.