The AFL says it wants a say in how the suicide of former Richmond star Shane Tuck is investigated, telling Victoria’s coroner the current scope is “potentially very broad” and could impact the sport.
- The Victorian coroner is investigating the death of the Tigers player, who died in July last year aged 38
- The AFL says it’s concerned about how the scope of an investigation into footballer Shane Tuck’s death could impact the sport
- The correlation between a condition experienced by some professional footballers, CTE, and mental health issues will be in focus
Tuck, who played 173 games for the Tigers before briefly becoming a professional boxer, was found dead at his Berwick home in July last year. He was 38.
His death sparked an investigation by the coroner and a post-mortem found the midfielder had been suffering from a severe condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died, which is a form of brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.
The disease is linked with mood and behaviour changes, and can only be diagnosed after death.
It is also the same condition suffered by St Kilda veteran Danny Frawley before he died in a car crash at Millbrook, near Ballarat, in 2019.
Frawley, who played 240 games and captained the Saints for nine seasons, had about 20 concussions over his career.
A coronial investigation into his death found that CTE potentially contributed to his depression in the years before he died and that the weight of the available evidence suggested the football star intentionally took his own life.
On Tuesday the lawyer assisting the coroner, Gideon Boas, said Tuck also had mental health issues which had become “progressively more severe” in the lead up to his death.
“The recent death of Danny Frawley … and the coronial findings and recommendations in relation to his death serve to highlight the potential relationship between head injuries experienced by professional footballers and the development of severe mental health issues which can lead toward suicide,” Dr Boas said.
“This correlation will be a strong focus of this coronial investigation,” he said.
AFL lawyer says says investigation’s broad scope has ‘potential to impact our sport’
The current scope of the investigation includes whether there is a link between head injuries sustained by Tuck and CTE, and how the disease is addressed by the AFL.
But Stephen Meade, the league’s legal boss, told the coroner that it wanted to have a say.
“The AFL does acknowledge the medical advice that there can be an association.
“I think it’s our position though, that it is a matter that … further research is needed in order to establish the link and the nature of that link.
“That’s more correctly our position than to disavow a connection or a causal relationship.”
The hearing was also attended by the AFL Players Association, the Professional Boxing and Combat Sports Board and lawyers for Tuck’s widow, Katherine.
Among the groups already asked to provide information to the court include Tuck’s doctors, the Alfred Hospital, the AFL and the Richmond Football Club.
Coroner Simon McGregor also noted that Tuck, unlike Frawley, played in the modern era under the protection of concussion policies.
“My limited view is that the research that has actually been produced to me certainly shows this correlation between a genuine risk of a profound lifetime injury in a profit-motivated workplace, featuring a high turnover of young people and therefore a long aftermath trail for any consequences,” he said.
“But this is just the beginning of an investigation and the interested parties who may or may not still hold the view that the correlation is not yet significant will be given the opportunity to show me why it’s not significant.”
The court has already received a number of documents including an 11-year-old list of research priorities, a nine-year-old PowerPoint presentation expressing a commitment to best practice, and references to a US exploratory trip from eight years ago.
Coroner McGregor also revealed his personal link to the Tuck case, telling the court that his brother currently works with the AFL Players Association in mental health, and was mentioned in the Danny Frawley coronial findings.
“I have expressly checked with him and he tells me, and I believe, that he did not directly provide care to Mr Shane Tuck nor to Mr Frawley in that previous matter, but he did make referrals to Shane onward toward other treatment,” the coroner said.
“He had eight conversations with Shane or his family across an 18-month period, ending in June 2020, for the purposes of linking Shane with various other people who would actually treat him,” he said.
“Professional football is a very big industry in Victoria and part of its appeal is that for many people there are many personal connections.”
“For my part I am satisfied that I can bring an independent mind to the conduct of this investigation.”
He said the parties could make an application for to recuse himself if they disagreed.