Essendon has announced that Aaron Francis “takes time out from AFL”. Picked at number 6 in the 2015 national draft, he asked to be traded back to his home state, South Australia. According to news reports, he is battling some mental health issues. We all know that Bryce Gibbs also sought to go back to his home state, but in this regard, it is so totally different to Francis’s circumstances. Here we have a young man, who if you work it out is nearing 21 years of age, Gibbs is nearing 29.
It seems that there are a lot of players, who in the throes of beginning their AFL career are really suffering being away from their support network. Now I am totally on the side of “harden up” and the opportunity to play for a major club is worth leaving behind that support network, but, and this is a huge but, there are those who just cannot do that.
Why are we so hell-bent on ensuring that all players fall into the mould of their respective footy club, that the cry for help goes un-noticed? Why do clubs just not listen to their younger players especially if that player has requested a trade back home?
Then there is the North Melbourne player, a Premiership player Shannon Grant is facing up to 18 charges including an assault. Then there are the Bulldogs who were fined for breaches of the drug testing code. Or former Essendon player, Andrew Lovett, sold his footy medals to fund his alcohol and gambling addictions and for assaulting a woman who took him in while he was homeless. There are more and there are probably more than we actually don’t know about.
The issue is that clubs need to made accountable for ensuring that their young players are not treated as “gods” and must, MUST ensure that they are given the tools needed to “harden up” or to understand that playing footy is a privilege and one that in one instant can be gone if injured during a game that can render them unable to play again. They must be guided in how to handle not only their fame in the sporting world but how to ensure that when their AFL career comes to an end that they don’t end up on the street because drugs and gambling have taken over as their new “career”.
It is ignorant not to think that drugs are not in the AFL community, they are, but they shouldn’t be. It is ignorant to think that some clubs put some players so high on a pedestal that when they do come down, they are faced with an unreality that they just can’t cope with. It is ignorant to think that a young player such as Francis, desperate to go home has to stop playing AFL because of mental health issues and that he is probably not alone.
Many have questioned the size of the Leadership Groups in clubs, Carlton included, but they are wrong. The more role models, leaders that the younger players have on the field and off, is far more positive, than negative. Every club needs those players who can be mentors to the younger ones, the more the better. For it is these players that can make a real difference in the career of the younger ones, together with clubs can lead these players down the right path.
I love this game, and it is sad that for some their club just doesn’t see past their abilities right now and what they can offer to their club, right now. They don’t invest in the future of these players (off-field), especially those that are obviously not well-equipped with the ability to “harden up”. Clubs need to do more, they cannot become the money-making organization that focuses on the now of the player, but rather the now and the future. It takes leadership in all aspects to achieve this. Long-term investments prove much more profitable than short-term ones. It is the same with players.