It has been revealed today that star AFL Sydney Swans player Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin will miss this weekend’s qualifying final against Freemantle due to “ongoing mental health issues.”
His club and team mates have shared some very supportive words, with head coach John Longmire saying in a press conference this afternoon, “The best place for him now is where he is at the moment and we’re right behind him, we support him fully and footy is the last thing on his mind.”
“He wants people to know about it and understand what he is going through. It is serious but treatable.”
For anyone who has struggled with mental health issues, you would know that the thought of revealing them to anyone can be a mix of frightening, freeing, difficult and daunting and every emotion that runs between. Add to that the pressure of a very public profile, one that involves thousands of supporters who idolise you, and the revelation can become overwhelming.
Because here’s the thing – admitting to anyone, even to yourself, that your mental health needs some attention often makes us feel too exposed; too vulnerable. As sad as it is, there is still such a stigma surrounding mental illness, including an assumption that you have failed in some way.
Dealing with mental health issues still implies to some that you are just weak or feeling sorry for yourself – that you just need to get up, get over it and get on with it. Like the ‘strong ones’ do.
And Lance Franklin? Surely he was one of the ‘strong ones’, right? A huge, athletic man who excels in a sport that celebrates the brawniest of them all. Doesn’t he have it all? A stellar career, money and a beautiful and supportive fiance he plans to marry soon.
Here is a man worshipped as a hero to the thousands who cheer him on every week when he steps onto the field. What does he have to feel sad about? What does he struggle with? That, friends, is the kicker. It doesn’t matter how shiny life is or how together you appear to have it…mental health issues do not discriminate. Not even against a big, handsome hero on the football field.
I hope Lance Franklin is given the time and space he needs to heal privately. I hope he is able to carry on doing what he loves, whether that involves football or not. I hope he is given the tools to live a happy life.
Most of all, I hope he receives kindness and understanding from the public.
I hope he realises how the bravery in his revelation could have given someone comfort; could have made someone feel less alone but moreover, could have even saved a life.
And that is the work of a true hero.