Bailey Smith opens up on how he turned his life around since

On Sunday morning Bailey Smith got up at 5.30am, took his dog for a walk and got a coffee at the local cafe. It was the happiest he’s been in a long time.

This is the new Bailey, the 2023 version who after some serious curveballs has found a new way of life.

The old Bailey would have never been up at the crack of dawn to walk the dog, he would have been just getting home from a weekend of partying.

Midway through last year Smith’s partying lifestyle was exposed after a damning video was released of him with white powder. The footage was from a period where his life spiralled out of control post the 2021 grand final loss to Melbourne.

He manned up straight away about the incident, apologised for his actions, said he was “ashamed” of his behaviour and importantly was brutally honest about where his life had been at the time.

As he sits on a couch in a studio in Sydney’s eastern suburbs waiting for a GQ Magazine photo shoot, Smith reveals for the first time how hitting rock bottom helped turn his life around.

He explains how he now finds his highs elsewhere, away from drugs and alcohol.

“There has been lots of growing up in between, lessons you learn but it does feel like a lifetime ago,” he says. “There was a lot that I went through, I’m through that now and I just feel great.

“It is shit stuff to go through but it makes you the person you are, obviously it’s not something you want to go through but I am a much better person now for going through it.”

Smith has been open about his mental health even before he was drafted by the Western Bulldogs at No. 7 in the 2018 national draft. He suffers from chronic anxiety and knows at any time one little thing can send him down a dark hole.

“The hardest thing back then was I was living on my own and had two pets under the age of four months at the time so there were days where I would barely leave the house,” he says.

There was a light bulb moment last year where Smith realised if he wanted to have a successful 15-year AFL career, which he’d dreamt of as a kid, then things had to change.

This was where his obsessive personality came in handy. Suddenly his recovery and everything to do with getting his body right to play football became the priority.

“I just began to tap into the longevity of my body and understanding what was required,” Smith explains. “I think the first two or three years I would treat my body like shit, I would do the recovery and stuff but after a game I’d always go out for a few beers and be like, ‘Yep, you’ll be fine’ and then I would be fresh on the Monday.

“Now it is like, ‘Hang on’. If you want a good 15-year career which is bloody long and it’s something I aspire to do then the building blocks can’t be built upon poor routines and not a strong foundation.

“Going out with your mates and drinking was a great release for me but long-term body wise it’s not going to work. Now I want to get home, sleep because I’m trying to take my recovery as seriously as I can this year. It’s also not only physical but mental.

“You just enjoy the week so much more when you are feeling better, training, you’re just feeling sharp in the mind. Saturday nights are fun here and there but God it is good when you wake up fresh on a Sunday and go for a walk.

“You get a different hit of dopamine, not being blind on a weekend but first up on a Sunday morning. It’s a different hit of feeling happy, it’s just awesome and then you are set up for a great week.”

Smith, 22, was already making changes to his life when the cocaine video surfaced in June which as well as the humiliation, cost him a two-week suspension meaning he missed a month of football as he’d already copped a two match ban for headbutting Geelong’s Zach Tuohy.

He had quickly found out the benefits of a more balanced lifestyle, in particular for his mental health.

“I was just trying to find ways to feel good every day and my overall mood went up, it was awesome and it was just simple. Sleep, eat well, drink less and go out less,” he says.

“You always have anxiety and this makes it more manageable, it doesn’t look like a big tidal wave coming at you, it looks like a five or six foot wave and you can duck dive under that one.

“It just makes everything a lot more manageable when your mood is through the roof a lot better, a lot more productive and you feel so much more fulfilled trying to win each day.”

Knowledge plays an important part in Smith’s turnaround. Once he is onto something, he can’t stop looking for more and more. Dopamine is his latest fascination.

He has become an avid watcher of TED talks which are influential videos from expert speakers on a variety of subjects such as education, business, science, technology and creativity.

It was here where he’s learnt about dopamine detox and how there are so many different ways to get the emotional highs we all crave.

“It’s all about not getting quick easy-fix dopamine hits and senses of happiness, more focusing on the delay gratification sort of things,” he says.

“In our society it’s like fast food, you have got food right there which makes you feel good for 10 minutes, you have got a TV show you can put on.

“You can go out drinking with your mates and be an idiot, it’s more understanding they are all temporary fixes for happiness and I’ve just now focused on more prolonged long-term.

“I’ve learnt how your diet can play a big role in your mental health, with your moods and stuff. It is a simple thing but no-one really does anything about it.

“That side of things is fun to play around with, how can I manipulate my mind to be happier and have more energy than the person next to me and want to do more than the person next to me.”


So what’s it like to be Bailey Smith?

Not since West Coast Eagles star Ben Cousins has there been an AFL player who fans have been so besotted with. People, in particular young girls, who don’t know football, know who Bailey Smith is.

In his prime Cousins was the most recognisable face in the game, the likeable good-looking bad boy who was the King of Perth. He played hard on the field and harder off it.

For a time he thought he was bulletproof and could get away with anything but his story ended badly.

Smith’s post grand final bender had a lot of Cousins about it. He partied hard in Perth and then on the Gold Coast, there were lots of hangers-on, lots of propositions and a nightclub scrap.

While that may be out of his system now, what doesn’t go away is the adulation. Every day Smith confronts it, the stares, the iphones filming him when he’s in the supermarket, the giggling teenagers continually wanting selfies.

He has an incredible 350,000 followers on Instagram – the most of any AFL player – and it has only been recently where he says he’s learnt not to fight it.

“I have just learnt to accept it but when you want to get a coffee, you don’t want to be stared at or filmed or spoken to, it can take a toll when it happens every single day,” Smith says. “Sometimes it can be tough but you don’t want to be rude either, I’m not that person.

“I know if I want a stress-free day I know places to avoid, stuff that might spike up my anxiety. You just want to be hidden at times but then at the same time you’re not an NBA player, you’re an AFL player, you’re not that big of a deal so get over it.

“You get things thrown at you and there are some which are wild but you just laugh at it. I can only imagine what someone like LeBron James would get, it’s all about perspective and you have to be blunt with yourself, you’re not that big of a deal.

“But then in saying that you have to be also kind at times too when it is too much, that is the route I have taken but if you asked me at the end of 2021 I would think I was the most hard done-by person because of all the media and stuff.

“You grow through it and you understand your perspective changes, your views on things change, the way you cope with things changes.”

He now lives with girlfriend, Gemma Dawkins, who works in the finance sector, and is thinking a lot more about a career outside of the game. He has three major personal sponsors, Monster Energy, McDonalds and Cotton On with the popular clothing brand playing a pivotal part in opening up new frontiers.

Once a week Smith will drive down to Cotton On’s Geelong headquarters where he’ll sit in meetings and make a contribution that isn’t just getting his photo taken with his shirt off.

“I love going down there and just being involved, feeling like it’s another team outside of my footy team,” he says. “That is the same with anything I do, I want to fully buy in and be invested, otherwise what’s the point, and I’m just loving it.

“It also helps take the stress off footy a bit, it then doesn’t make the footy bubble seem as big. There is so much more out there, that is what I’ve realised.

“My first couple of years were so footy orientated obviously you want to put all you can in there and perform as well as you can but you can do that without mentally always being locked onto that so that’s why it has been good opening up a few other doors to take the pressure out of the footy world.”

While his regular topless Instagram shots may suggest otherwise, Smith says he gets nervous in front of the camera for those fashion shoots which now adorn billboards around Melbourne.

“In terms of the modelling side of things, that’s stressful and not something that comes naturally to me as some people may think it does,” he says.

His favourite escape is the gaming world. Smith describes himself as a “gaming nerd” who can sit in his study at home for hours watching people play Fortnite and then indulging himself.

“I’m a bit obsessive with anything I do and what I love is the craft behind Fortnite, the strategy of it, it’s hard to explain. It’s like a different language but I love it and would play it every day,” he says.

“From 14 onwards I always had an aspiration to have a mullet. I was a typical private schoolboy wanting to be an Aussie bogan. School made me cut it tonnes, it was annoying because I loved it but it was always you’re got to cut it. So when I finished it was like I could finally grow my hair. It’s just a little thing but it felt so big when you are a kid and it was something that I grew a fascination with probably because I was told I wasn’t allowed to do it.”
“I’ve always loved the bodybuilding side of things. I would be into that if I wasn’t playing footy. It’s just so disciplined and it shows if you can control your diet your can control so many things.”
“I love sweets. Before the Melbourne game last year I reckon I had 800 grams of lollies, the scoop and weigh at Coles is shocking. It’s so bad and I love chocolate.”
“I find social media as a whole can be toxic. I hate TikTok even though I understand the benefits of it. Obviously I’m on (Instagram) but I try to steer clear as I am a big over thinker. I can’t be blindly scrolling onto aps because my mood can change so quickly. I don’t want to see sad stuff, I don’t want to see things that make me angry, that’s why I have sort of culled it out of my life.”
“The formula is there, the personnel is there, it’s just about consistently rocking up. The culture of the group and the overall environment is a lot better, more positive and it feels great. It does feel like that 2021 year where we sort of felt like we were invincible, it doesn’t mean we are going to be, you just have to nurture that feeling and feel that side of the game.
“I’m looking at developing more of that inside game. In the practice match against North Melbourne I had 18 contested possessions which was a lot more compared to what I used to have. I would have 30 touches and it would be five or seven contested so it’s about understanding that whatever the stoppage at the time needs me to be. If I need to get in there and win the footy you can do that. It’s not going in with a preconceived idea that I’m an outside player, not being pigeonholed into that one sort of mindset.”

“The thing is I can’t play golf because of the back issues I’ve had and my outlet always used to be exercise growing up and then overtraining was an issue for me so it is good to find something that’s an outlet. I get the same sort of endorphin release as going to the gym or going for a run.

“It is another way to be competitive which doesn’t take a toll on your body which was something I really needed.”

Smith locks in with the piercing blue eyes when asked about how he’s turned his life around. He knows more about the traps of fame now, he is a lot wiser and aware of the direction he needs to head.

More importantly, he’s enjoying doing it.

“I’ve found the less I fight stuff and embrace it the freer I feel,” Smith says. “I’ve sort of been in this tug of war, now it’s like, ‘All right just embrace it’, just be grateful that you are in the position you are in.

“It is tough that you had to go through it all publicly, the mess up publicly and people have views of you for this or that but it’s just life, you can’t fight it, just embrace it.

“The freer you feel the more you embrace whatever comes your way I guess.”