The sister of the late AFL great Shane Tuck has provided a grim insight into his final days as calls grow louder to protect young Aussie sporting stars from serious head knocks. The beloved midfielder, who played 173 games for Richmond, died aged 38 in 2020 after a long battle with his mental health. An autopsy later found he had a severe case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of concussions suffered while playing footy.
The condition can only be diagnosed after death and has been found in other prominent former AFL players including Danny Frawley and Graham "Polly" Farmer, who all donated their brains to research. Late NRL greats Paul Green and Steve Folkes, and former AFLW star Heather Anderson are among other high-profile Aussie sporting stars found to have CTE after their deaths.
'WHAT A JOKE': Fans fume over Buddy Franklin news
'EXPLOITING THE RULES': AFL fans left fuming over an 'unfair' move
Following Tuck's death, his brain was donated to the Australian Sports Brain Bank, which revealed at the time that it was the most severe case of CTE they had ever seen. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Tuck's sister Renee said his brain had degenerated to such an extent that he was hearing voices in his head.
“Shane was the biggest, strongest, mentally strong bloke that I’ve ever known, and he ended up killing himself because his brain was just toasted,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through that.”
Calls to limit full-contact sport in younger children
The comments come amid a push from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) on Wednesday to prevent children from playing full-contact sport until the age of 14. The RCPA statement is calling for younger athletes to be limited to low or non-contact versions of sport, citing a prolonged exposure to head knocks as a contributing factor to the alarming condition.
RCPA president Dr Lawrie Bott insisted government action on the issue was essential. “As a doctor, it worries me that we are continuing to expose boys and girls and young men and women to lifelong devastating harm, when we already have significant evidence as a community,” he said.
The RCPA says sporting history for athletes should be included in standard medical records for young patients. The organisation is also calling for the government to develop standardised concussion and head trauma protocols and guidelines for general practitioners. The RCPA is pleading with the Federal Government to adopt recommendations from a Senate inquiry that was specifically formed to look into head trauma in athletes.
Tuck suffered a number of concussions in both sports, including being knocked out in he fourth round of his first match and was carried out on a stretcher. An autopsy revealed the 38-year-old had “severe” CTE, which can only be diagnosed after death, and can result in behaviour changes including depression and paranoia.
Tuck was diagnosed with depression in 2010 and within eight years reported hearing voices telling him to take his own life, leading to him being admitted to psychiatric units from 2018-2020 after several overdoses. Symptoms of CTE also include poor attention, concentration and memory and is linked to a lack of insight, poor judgment and impulsive behaviour.
Renee Tuck says head trauma education is key
Tuck's sister has been outspoken about head trauma issues since his death and told a Coroner’s Court in July that education was key. She made the heartbreaking revelation that her late brother "pushed through hell" to be with his loved ones before it ultimately became too much.
“CTE is real and it is unrelenting,” Renee Tuck said in July. “It brings a strong man absolutely to his knees and in Shane’s case to his death. He pushed through hell to stay with us for as long as he could and in his death he found his peace but our agony at living without him began.
“Little did we know his brain was rotting away... Shane’s final days on earth was a war zone inside his head. If not for CTE, Shane would have lived a long life because he looked after himself so well. He would have lived to see his kids grow up.
“I hope that from what they hear through Shane’s story, it will give an understanding of how precious our brains and our minds truly are. When it comes to CTE, prevention is the cure and education is the power.”
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.