Let’s all give Buddy the space he deserves

Date: September 10, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

BuddyAs a sufferer of mental illness myself I greatly admire what Buddy Franklin has done.

He is the highest paid player in the AFL with a ten-year $10 million contract. His team is in the finals and in contention for the greatest prize of all. He is a hero to thousands of Sydney fans and he can turn a game in the blink of an eye. He is one of the lynchpins to the club’s hopes of a premiership.

And, at present, all that means diddly squat.

Elite level sport is a multi-million dollar business and the AFL is the biggest code in the country when it comes to television rights and bums on seats. But for Franklin at present that too needs to take a back seat.

What he is facing currently is more important than sport and the fact that he has taken the action he has should be applauded.

Franklin’s current plight is yet another salient reminder that mental illness, like all illnesses, does not discriminate. Yes, he seemingly has it all – money, fame, abundant sporting ability and a model fiancé – but none of that is an insulator when it comes to mental illness.

From English Prime Minister Winston Churchill and West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop to the homeless and unemployed who doss down on a park bench, and all those in between, mental illness can strike anyone.

In recent years we have seen other AFL players admit to having suffered from mental illness during their career – Wayne Schwass, Nathan Thompson and Mitch Clark to name just three – and now Franklin is another.

The vast majority of those who suffer from a mental illness battle it in obscurity. For Franklin, and other high profile sufferers, obscurity is not an option.

The situation he faces has been plastered on the front page of newspapers and high up in media news bulletins. His is a public story but one that needs to be treated in a mature and sensible way.

At present no one beyond his closest circle of confidantes knows the genesis, seriousness or longevity of his illness. And that is entirely appropriate.

Sadly, however, in this era of 24/7 news issues like Franklin’s are seen as rich fodder.

Questions will be raised, hypotheses will likely be floated and those close to the man himself will no doubt be sought for comment. And then there is the modern vehicle for gossip – social media.

Already some have taken to the medium to post their thoughts on what is the underlying cause of Franklin’s illness.

Media and social media speculation at such times is an extremely fraught exercise. From my own experiences when I resigned from the ABC in mid-2011 as a result of mental illness and an associated breakdown things were stated in the media that were blatantly untrue.

A heartfelt email to close colleagues of mine at Aunty following my resignation in which I admitted to my mental illness was leaked to the media and appeared on page two of the West Australian newspaper.

Neither of those things did me any good at the time and I can assure you that unwanted and unwarranted speculation with respect to Franklin’s situation will do anything other than add to the obvious burden he is carrying.

Now is the time to allow Franklin the opportunity to battle his personal demons away from the glare of the public arena. It is time for him to focus solely on his health and do so with the support of those closest to him.

One day he may wish to speak publicly about his battle or he may choose to keep it all to himself.

Either way it is his choice and his alone. Nobody has the right to announce things on his behalf.

What Buddy Franklin is facing is an intensely private thing and everyone – from the media to those in the blogosphere – should treat him with respect.

Hopefully he will soon return to the football field and once again thrill fans with his abundant talents. When, or if he does so, is entirely up to him.

He deserves to be allowed to pursue a total return to health unfettered by those who wish to pry or speculate on his condition.

We all owe him that.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 9 September 2015, soliciting 32 comments