While I no longer report on the AFL from a television or radio newsroom, I still have deep thoughts about the game – some meaningful, many meaningless – but thought’s, nonetheless. I was thinking recently, while Carlton will always be my team, I do have enormous respect for a number of players from opposing teams. You’ll soon understand why.
1. Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin
I can hear you say, “well that’s hardly a surprise”. Yes, big Bud’s been a superstar of the AFL for more than a decade. We’ve marvelled at his agility, his gazelle-like gallop, and, of course, his uncanny knack of defying physics while kicking swinging left foot goals from the left forward flank. That’s all good. In fact, excellent. Well played, Bud. But I admire the veteran Swan because of his openness and honesty. I can’t remember too many players missing a finals series even though they weren’t injured or suspended. Bud did. Taking time out on the eve of the Swans’ 2015 September campaign because he was battling mental illness is, in my opinion, one of his greatest achievements. In making such a profound statement he opened a door for others to follow.
2. Heath Grundy
And follow they did. I promise this isn’t all about the Swans. But the AFL savvy readers know exactly why Buddy’s dour but very effective defensive teammate gets a gig. Because he, too, had nothing to hide by sharing his mental health struggles late in the 2018 season. Originally a rookie, ‘Reg’ has played more than 250 games for the Bloods. And yet it’s his decision to take time out that might leave the greatest legacy. Many of you know the wonderful Paul Kelly song “From little things big things grow”. Well, there’s a mental health movement both here and abroad that started quietly early this century and grows louder every day. I’m happy to bellow to anyone who’ll listen: “IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH.”
3. Tom Boyd
I’m not sure who came up with the saying, “be careful what you wish for”. But gee, whoever it was, was on the money. Being a number one AFL draft selection is an honour. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be adjudged the best player of the next generation? But we’ve seen over the years, there is a huge amount of pressure that comes with the number one mantle. If you’re not starring by July of your debut season – or at least providing glimpses you’re the next Gary Ablett/Dustin Martin/Patrick Cripps – then a few seeds of doubt may have already been planted. Throw in a multi-million dollar move from GWS to a working-class club like the Western Bulldogs, and that pressure is at breaking point. History will show Tom Boyd’s performance in the Dogs’ drought-breaking 2016 Premiership was immense. But so was his decision to take time out soon after because he was in a bad place. A Premiership might be fabulous, but what’s the point if you never get to enjoy it.
4. Jack Steven
The St Kilda terrier is the latest AFL player to declare he’s taking time out to deal with a mental health issue. A four-time club best and fairest winner, Steven is yet another reminder, within the AFL – and any sport, for that matter – we have some pretty impressive actors. On the outside they appear okay; on the inside, it’s a mess. Saints’ general manager of football Simon Lethlean described Steven’s decision to step away from football as “brave”. And it is. Hopefully, we’ll soon move on from brave, and treat mental illness for what it really is – part of life.
5. Alex Fasolo
Former Magpie now Blue Alex Fasolo spoke of his mental health problems in 2017. While his illness was news to most football fans, it had been a debilitating part of Fasolo’s life for many years. He spoke of being mentally exhausted at putting on a front every time he walked into the club – And the Academy Award goes to Alex Fasolo! Thankfully for Alex, he put up his hand and acknowledged he needed help. He praised Nathan Buckley and the Magpies’ coaching staff for their wonderful understanding and support. They really are side-by-side at Collingwood. It’s great to have him at Carlton. A good player and, from all reports, a really good person.
6. Majak Daw
Every now and then stories within the sporting sphere rock you. There’s no need to delve into the events surrounding Majak Daw’s heartbreaking fall from the Bolte Bridge in December last year. Instead, let’s focus on his recovery; and those wonderful pictures of a smiling Majak sitting beside his teammates for the Roos’ 2019 team photo. We’re not sure if Majak will return to the field; hopefully he will. Should that day come, the AFL might need to move the game to the MCG (if it isn’t there already) because it’ll be jam packed with supporters. Not just Roos’ supporters – though they’ll be there in huge numbers, of course – but Majak supporters from every AFL club. And probably the wider community.
They’re just some of the current day AFL players who so many of us admire and respect. And let’s not forget the ground-breaking conversations and contributions lead by former players like Wayne Schwass, Nathan Thompson, Mitch Clark and Travis Cloke. There are many others and there will be many more. Whoever you are, wherever you are, please remember, you are never on your own.
Because you have us. By us I mean anyone who’s ever felt lost, vulnerable, insecure or unloved. And, of course, anyone who’s struggled with their mental health. We might support or play for different clubs, but we’ll always be on the same team; that glorious team called humanity.
Want to reach out ?Get in touch With Brad
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