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Football, the media and mental health

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Roar Rookie
28th March, 2019
15

Why do we hold our sporting stars on such a lofty pedestal?

We take a few hundred young men, ship them around the country and micromanage every aspect of their lives.

We are ready to pounce on any imperfection or infraction as if their job is to be a moral compass, not kick a footy around, then wonder why there is a sudden rise in depression and anxiety.

According to the Black Dog Institute, 20 per cent of Australians suffer from mental health conditions, and 45 per cent will suffer from some mental health illness in their lifetime.

Yet when it comes to AFL, social media and occasionally mainstream media seems to think that mental health is often used as an excuse to cover up bad behaviour in footballers.

If 20 per cent of Australians have mental health conditions, why can’t we let 20 per cent of footballers have it – especially given the extra scrutiny we put them under.

This week sees the likely club debut of one Jesse Hogan. As everyone is aware, he missed his chance last week due to drinking too much prior to training.

It is a not uncommon incident that tends to happen at least once a year.

The complicating factor though, was Fremantle linking the incident to Jesse’s anxiety and mental health problems.

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This is something completely understood by most who have suffered anxiety, but suddenly an excuse to those who don’t yet are starting to find a trend.

Jesse Hogan

Jesse Hogan of the Dockers and Brandon Matera. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Almost every week we hear of players struggling with some sort of mental health issue: Travis Cloke stepped away from the game, Tom Boyd took some weeks off – as did Alex Fasolo. Cam McCarthy came home, not able to see out the final year of his contract with GWS.

In the latest development of Hogan, Fremantle President Dale Alcock stated that the media were “lacking in consideration” when it came to reporting on Hogan.

I would go further and argue that many pundits from the media weren’t just “lacking in consideration” but that the media itself is partly driving the problem, especially when they downplay mental health because of some incorrect terminology. Yes, “clinical anxiety” is the wrong word, but that doesn’t mean the diagnosis isn’t real.

Certainly, we can expect mental health conditions among AFL players because of the stress of the job, moving, trolling or any other reason, yet I would argue that the media’s willingness to cut down the tall poppy is a fact that players can’t get away from.

There was no need for Basil Zempilas to compare Hogan to Ben Cousins. There was no need for The West Australian, Channel Nine and Channel Seven to show video from an unrelated Christmas party three years ago.

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The media are quick to call out sexism and racism – which is good – but when it comes to bullying players, they are often as much as fault as the trolls who comment.

There’s no coincidence that as soon as Chris Mayne stopped reading the news, he went from basket case to in a top four side’s best 22.

The media refused to believe Lachie Neale when he said part of the reason he went to Brisbane was to get away from the “fishbowl” that was Perth media – yet he’s had to defend the move from the regular news coming out of that exact same media outlets.

There seems to be no accountability among reporters. They forget that their only job is to report the facts on games, players and provide insight and analysis that us un-educated observers might miss.

Their opinions should be a matter of who wins and who loses and why, not to tell you all why this 23-year-old kid is a terrible person because he had a few too many drinks – as if we all haven’t had a few too many drinks, especially in our early 20s.

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It’s time for the media to go back to doing their jobs properly. Report the facts, remember the players are human and stop being the bullies that you tell people not to be.