Shane Tuck’s death probe to examine brain injury

Concussions rules in the AFL will be probed as part of an investigation into the death of a former Tigers player who had a degenerative brain disorder.

Shane Tuck took his own life last year and an autopsy revealed the 38-year-old had “severe” chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to changes in behaviour and mood.

The same condition was found in iconic players Graham “Polly” Farmer and Danny Frawley after they died.

The potential links between concussions, the disease and the development of mental illness will be a “strong focus” of the investigation, the Coroners Court of Victoria was told on Tuesday.

Tuck played 173 games as a midfielder for the Richmond Football club in the “modern era” between 2004 and 2013, counsel assisting Gideon Boas told the court.

“That raises questions about what was known, what was done and what could or should be done in the context of AFL,” Dr Boas said.

He said a list of players who had their professional careers ended early after serious concussions included Nicky Winmar, Heritier Lumumba, Shaun Smith and Jonathan Brown.

“The list is, of course, far longer,” he said.

A mandatory 12-day break for players who get a concussion has been brought in for this year’s season.

How the AFL managed sports-related concussions and head injuries during Tuck’s career and how it manages them now will also be examined, Dr Boas said.

A report showing the correlation between the brain disease and participation in contact-based sports had been received by Coroner Simon McGregor.

“Research that has actually been produced to me certainly shows this correlation between a genuine risk of profound lifetime injury in a profit-motivated workplace featuring a high turnover of young people and therefore a long aftermath trail for any consequences,” Mr McGregor said.

“This is just the beginning of the investigation,” he said.

The proposed scope of the investigation will examine whether there was a link between the head injuries and concussions Tuck endured during his AFL career and the disease.

It will also investigate if there was any relationship between Tuck’s mental health leading up to his death and CTE.

Whether the AFL’s rules and policies are reasonable to address the risk of the degenerative brain disorders when players sustain a head injury will also be examined. This will also be checked in relation to Tuck’s brief career as a boxer from 2015 and 2017.

The league’s head of legal Stephen Meade asked for time to make submissions in relation to the draft scope of the investigation,

“It’s potentially very broad and has the potential to impact our sport,” he said.

He told the court the AFL acknowledged medical advice showing there could be an association between head trauma and CTE.

“It’s our position though that it is a matter in respect of which further research is needed in order to establish the link and the nature of that link,’’ he said.

Mr Meade also said the sport encouraged players to donate their brains to science.

The coroner has yet to decide if a full inquest into Tuck’s death will be held.

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AFL wants say in the scope of the investigation into footballer Shane Tuck’s death

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.

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.

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.

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Shane Tuck’s father Michael urges men to talk about their mental health after former Richmond player’s death

Shane Tuck’s father Michael Tuck has spoken about his son’s death and the “issues” he faced throughout his life.

In an interview with the Herald Sun, Michael Tuck said his son “kept it all in”, and urged others to speak up and share their mental health problems.

“He was a big, strong kid and he just had a few issues and he couldn’t get rid of them and that was the only way out,” Mr Tuck said.

“[Shane] was bit like that — he kept it all in because he was a tough, strong man.

“It’s not a weakness, it’s just to express yourself with honesty and don’t try to cover up things.

“He didn’t mean anything by it, he just couldn’t admit he had a real bad problem.”

Shane Tuck’s death at 38 years old came as a shock to former teammates and football fans across the country.

He belonged to a famous AFL family, with his father Michael a legend of the Hawthorn Football Club, with whom he won seven premierships, including four as captain.

His brother Travis also played for the Hawks, and he was a cousin of Geelong superstar Gary Ablett Junior and nephew to Cats great Gary Ablett Senior.

Former teammate Jack Riewoldt said the entire Richmond squad — currently together in a hub in Queensland — was banding together to deal with the grief.

“There’s a handful of us that played with Tucky and admired him and loved him as a mate and as a player, but it’s impacted our staff as well,” Riewoldt told Fox Footy’s AFL 360 on Tuesday night.

“Our medical staff spent a lot of time with Tucky. Any footballer can attest that the hub of an AFL club is the medical room, and he was so funny and just always spent time in there.

“Guys used to love winding him up, but he was just a character.

“It’s been a day of phone calls and reminiscing. I’ve been chatting a lot of ex-teammates just about how they’re dealing with it.

“A lot of my ex-teammates are involved in other football clubs and we’re all sort of spread around Australia.

“But just to share a memory and a moment and a phone call and even a story, just about how much we loved Tucky — it’s part of the grieving process that we’re all going through at the moment.”

A Richmond AFL player tries to kick the ball with left foot with a Tigers teammate and Port Adelaide opponent next to him.
Shane Tuck played 173 games for Richmond between 2004 and 2013.(AAP: Joe Castro)

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