Footy champ Frawley’s tragic health secret
Footy champ Danny Frawley was suffering from a crippling neurological disorder linked to repeated head knocks at the time of his death.
An analysis of Frawley's brain has been handed to the Victorian Coroner showing the St Kilda legend suffered from Stage II CTE - chronic traumatic encephalopathy - when his four-wheel drive struck a tree in Millbrook, near Ballan, on September 9 last year.
CTE can only be diagnosed after death.
Frawley's wife, Anita, confirmed the finding, saying she hopes it will "prevent other families from going through what we did".
"Our hearts would break seeing others go through the emotions we went through," Anita said.
"This is an issue for the community, it is not about a particular sport or sports, we need more research to diagnose and assist people living with the disease."
There is growing concern over the long-term consequences of concussions in contact sports.
Anita said her late husband, who died at 56, had lived with depression for many years and the diagnosis has helped the family better understand the impact of brain injuries in the community.
"His mental health battles, and his strong advocacy for mental health issues, were well known," she said.
"As his wife for over 30 years, I strongly suspected there was more going on with Danny than straightforward depression.
"I am very grateful for the work of the Australian Sports Brain Bank in shining a light on this disease. We want to prevent other families from going through what we did.
"We are waiting for the release of the coroner's report before any further comment, however I want people to know about the problem now, and not wait, as I believe this may help families understand the issues."
Frawley is the second VFL/AFL player to be diagnosed with CTE, the devastating condition linked to concussions and subconcussive hits.
Footy great Graham "Polly" Farmer, who died in August last year, was confirmed to have Stage III CTE in February.
Frawley's family agreed for his brain to be analysed at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital as part of a coroner's investigation into his death.
Samples were also tested in the US at the world-leading Boston Brain Bank. Both found he was suffering from CTE.
CTE ranges from the mildest form, Stage I, to the most severe in Stage IV.
Stage II symptoms can include depression, mood swings and suicidal thoughts.
Frawley, who suffered multiple heavy hits during his career at St Kilda, had talked openly about his struggles with depression before his death.
He played 240 games for his beloved Saints from 1984-95 and captained the club from 1987-95 before coaching Richmond.
Frawley played 11 times for Victoria, became a prominent media figure and was a father of three girls.
A string of high-profile AFL stars have been forced to walk away from the game in recent years because of complications linked to concussions.
Anita revealed after his death that Frawley had taken himself off mental health medication eight months before the accident thinking he had "beaten" his demons.
Former AFL player Luke Darcy has weighed in on Danny Frawley's diagnosis of CTE.
"Still think of our great mate Danny Frawley every weekend," Luke Darcy said on Triple M's Hot Breakfast.
"It's a tragic story, you can imagine for the Frawley family. Maybe there are some answers in that, maybe it does make more sense to understand the struggles Danny was having.
"Now we look back, as you always do, and you think we didn't understand concussions."
Darcy said protocols around AFL football and concussion have changed "extraordinarily", referencing his days on the field where players were sent back to play if they could say their name after being concussed.
Collingwood president Eddie McGuire thanked the Frawley family for "offering up" Danny for the tests.
"We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the inner workings of the brain and the manifestations of those injuries," Eddie McGuire said on his radio program.
"Thank you to the Frawley family for offering up Danny for these tests.
"We learn more and more about it (concussion) as we go.
"Sometimes these things can be luck of the draw; if there are things we can mitigate against, we have to do so."
Daniel Patrick Frawley
Born: September 8, 1963
Playing career: 240 games for St Kilda from 1984-1995 (captain 1987-1995)
11 games for Victoria
All Australian 1988
Best & Fairest 1988
Coaching: Richmond 2000-2004 (113 games)
Died September 9, 2019 (aged 56)
Originally published as Footy champ Frawley's tragic health secret