Danny Frawley’s widow has revealed the AFL legend was suffering from a neuro-degenerative disease linked to head injuries at the time of his death.
Frawley, a St Kilda great turned media personality, died when his car slammed into a tree near Ballarat, Victoria, one day after his 56th birthday on September 9, 2019.
The father-of-three had been vocal about his battle with depression in the lead up to his death and his loved ones had noticed a change in his behaviour.
His wife, Anita, confirmed an analysis of Frawley’s brain found he had Stage II chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Frawley (second from the left with his family), AFL great turned media personality, died after his car slammed into a tree near Ballarat, Victoria, just one day after his 56th birthday on September 9, 2019
Frawleys wife, Anita (left), confirmed an analysis of her husband’s brain – which has been handed to the Victorian Coroner – found he had Stage II chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
Daughters Chelsea, Keeley, Danielle Frawley and wife Anita Frawley follow the coffin of Danny Frawley at his funeral in September 2019
The condition, which can cause depression and suicidal thoughts, can only be detected after death and is linked to repeated head knocks and concussions.
Frawley, a renowned tough nut on the field, was exposed to both during his 240-game career with the Saints.
Anita hopes the diagnosis will ‘prevent other families from going through what we did’.
‘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,’ Anita told the Herald Sun.
Anita said her late husband’s mental health battles and advocacy for the issue was well known.
‘As his wife for over 30 years, I strongly suspected there was more going on with Danny than straightforward depression,’ she said.
Frawley (centre) is chaired off the ground following his final match in 1995
Frawley lies on the ground after copping a blow to the head during a match in the 1980s
Anita (second from right right) hopes the CTE diagnosis will ‘prevent other families from going through what we did’. Frawley (centre) is pictured with his family
Anita said she is grateful for the Australian Sports Brain Bank, which is shining a light on the disease.
She hopes a greater understanding of CTE will prevent other families from suffering in the same way.
Frawley is the second AFL player to be diagnosed with CTE, after legend Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer was confirmed to have Stage III CTE in February.
The Geelong superstar was 84 years old when he died in August last year after battling Alzheimer’s.
The diagnosis has raised fears about the safety of contact sports.
The degenerative brain disease has been found in former players of American football, ice hockey, soccer, rugby union and others exposed to repeated head injury.
The disease can often lead to depression and other behavioural disturbances in younger people.
Symptoms in older people, however, may be indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s disease.
What is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease likely caused by repeated head traumas.
CTE can result in confusion, depression, dementia, explosiveness, aggression, and suicidal thoughts.
The symptoms don’t develop immediately after a head injury but they progress years or decades after repeated head trauma.
The disease can only be detected after death through brain tissue analysis.
The condition has been found in former players of American football, ice hockey, soccer, rugby union and others exposed to repeated head injury.
Pictured: Frawley trains with Richmond Tigers in Melbourne in 2004
A tribute to Danny Frawley is seen at St Kilda Saints Football Club on September 10
In March, Frawley’s former teammate Ricky Nixon said he was conducting research on concussions.
The leading AFL player agent believed concussions could be linked to the downfall of ‘one of my best mates Danny Frawley’.
‘The research I’ve been doing in the 12 months – if you get knocked out for more than one minute when you’re out cold, effectively you’re brain dead but your heart’s still going,’ Nixon told the You Cannot Be Serious podcast in March.
‘When you get to the age of around 50, your brain starts to deteriorate.’
Nixon recalled a match where the former Richmond coach was knocked out after an opposition player punched him ‘fair and square in the jaw’.
‘Danny was knocked out for four minutes that day and came back on the ground within an hour and got knocked out another eight times in his career,’ he said.
A tree is scene at the crash scene on Old Melbourne Road in Millbrook, north-west of Melbourne, where Frawley died
Pictured: St Kilda Football club supporters arrive at the Danny Frawley funeral service on September 18
Nixon believed there was a direct correlation between those on-field head injuries and his strange behaviour in the final years of his life.
‘When he [Frawley] turned exactly 50, that year he started to behave very strangely and that continued on for the next six or seven years,’ he said.
‘You can’t tell me that wasn’t concussion related.’
The former agent, who has acted for 1,200 players, said he has been increasingly contacted by former players concerned about how concussions could affect them later in life.
‘I had phone calls from over 50 players in the last week in relation to this matter,’ he said at the time.
‘Someone like Des Tuddenham… He told me he’s got up to 15 teammates who lay on the sofa all day, every day and they’re not in a good way due to head knocks. That is unbelievable.’
Frawley (pictured during his playing days) excelled on the AFL field, playing 240 games with St Kilda
Frawley’s family follow the AFL great’s coffin during his funeral service on September 18
Frawley excelled on the AFL field, playing 240 games with St Kilda, as well as in his post-football career as a coach and commentator.
He had begun to open up publicly about his battles with depression and mental health demons before his death.
He filmed a television ad with mental health charity One In Five before he died and it was given the green light to go to air after the fatal car accident.
‘Did you know one in five Australians are living with a mental illness right now’ Frawley said in the ad.
‘Join us today and help turn one in five, to none in five.
‘And change the face of mental illness for everyone.’
One in Five described Frawley as a tireless mental health advocate who shared their belief that cures are possible through research.
For confidential support in Australia call LIFELINE: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au.
ANITA FRAWLEY STATEMENT ON DEATH OF HER HUSBAND DANNY
Anita Frawley released the following statement in the days after her husband’s death.
On Monday, the love of my life was tragically taken from my girls and I.
Many have speculated on the cause and lead up to this tragedy. Danny, as a champion of mental health would want me to continue his legacy and be open with the public of the events leading up to this heartbreak.
While the circumstances of the event are unconfirmed and will remain uncertain until the investigations are complete, it was true that Danny’s mental health had deteriorated in recent weeks.
As is widely known, Danny had experienced and lived with depression dating back a number of years. But to his credit, he had put up his hand and accepted psychiatric treatment, counselling and medication. He recovered and returned to being the Danny of old.
The road leading up to last Monday’s events began 8 months ago when Danny made the decision to take himself off his prescribed medication. At this point Danny felt invincible, like the true competitor and proud man that he was; he felt that he had beaten the disease. In fact, he felt bullet proof, which contributed to his decision to remove himself from his support network including his psychiatric care and not continuing to work with his team of mental health professionals.
The reason I am making this public is that I want this to be a reminder to all those grappling with mental health conditions and to those whom have made progress with their wellbeing that you should always seek help from professionals when considering making decisions surrounding your mental health, even when you feel as though you have fully recovered.
Our final memory of Danny is one we will cherish forever, a night spent sitting around our family table, playing board games and laughing on his 56th birthday. He will never be forgotten and will forever be in our hearts.
I would like to leave everyone with this quote from Danny, ‘manning up in the past was to suffer in silence, manning up now is to put your hand up.’
Danny Frawley’s devastated family released the statement after his death last year