‘It’s time to help’: Premiership greats establish past player foundation

Carlton premiership greats Ken Hunter and Ken Sheldon have established a mental wellbeing and health charity foundation to help former high-level male and female athletes deal with issues and adjust to life once their playing careers are finished.

Hunter, who revealed in an interview with The Age’s Caroline Wilson in 1999 the mental-health struggles and depression he had battled while playing, and Sheldon have established the independently run FifthQtr Foundation.

Carlton greats Ken Sheldon (front) and Ken Hunter (left) have established FifthQrt, a foundation Patrick Bines says will provide great help for former players and athletes.Credit:Justin McManus

The foundation, still seeking financial support, will initially focus on former VFL-AFL players but plans to soon help athletes from all sports.

One of the more fearless men to have ever played in the VFL-AFL, leading to an estimated 20 or more head knocks and concussions, Hunter said he was tired of what he feels is the lack of support on offer for former AFL players.

“It’s time to help, to give athletes a safe-haven to be supported. We are starting small but we will help as much as we can. What happens with athletes, when they finish, they lose their identity and their purpose and they are vulnerable,” Hunter told The Age.

Carlton premiership great Ken Hunter says more needs to be done to help former players adjust to life off the field.Credit:Justin McManus

“It’s when they are vulnerable that they make poor decisions. It could be they start drinking or doing drugs or gambling, they buy a business because they think they need to maintain a lifestyle.

“There can be all sorts of issues but there aren’t many places to go to for help, and this spirals into mental illness, depression and anxiety. Once you get down to that level, it’s hard to get out of. In terms of the AFL, players often don’t want to go back to their club and ask for help because they have often been sacked by the club or leave on bad terms. We want to fill that void.”

Hunter’s comments come after AFL great Wayne Carey, in his weekly column in The Age, said the AFL Players Association needed to do more for former players, prompting the PA to respond by listing the services and financial aid it provides.

Ken Hunter’s story in The Age in 1999, when he spoke openly of depression.Credit:The Age Library

Hunter said the FifthQtr and PA could work together. The new charity plans to provide support managers who then give those seeking help direction to health, financial, legal and employment aid. It is still seeking major business partners and sponsors to help with assistance.

Former West Coast Eagles player Patrick Bines, who recently won a $500,000 payout for permanent total disability after a career-ending neck injury, said more services were needed for those struggling post their playing careers.

“In every sport, there are players who fall through the gaps. There are not many safety nets for everyone, [including] for those players from the ’80s and ’90s. Everyone struggles from time to time and there should be a way for players to connect,” he said.

“There are so many players who would benefit from this, coming out of sporting systems, both in men’s and female competitions, who get flushed out really quickly. It’s a fast-moving industry.”

The FifthQtr board has prominent names, including former Olympian Nova Peris and former Victorian politician and dual Blues’ premiership ruckman, Justin Madden.

Hunter, a three-time premiership star in the 1980s, said too many lives had been lost, or impaired, after sports stars retired, for they were “unsure how to deal with the real world”.

“All of a sudden they are out there on their own and a lot of athletes run into trouble. There really is no other occupation that, say by the age of 30, that it’s all over, and all of a sudden, you have to try and reinvent yourself,” Hunter said.

“I am not saying that happens with everybody. A lot of people know what they want to do and they are happy to move on, but there are a lot of people you don’t know of that don’t want to go back to the club or the AFL. We all know of people who have finished and are in trouble.”

Sheldon, a key member of the Blues’ mosquito fleet of the early 1980s who went on to coach St Kilda, said FifthQtr will “provide additional support and a safety net to athletes across the codes”.

Hunter had severe depression in 1988 – the year after his third premiership with Carlton – which led to him being hospitalised.

He will have his brain donated to the Australian Sports Brain Bank for research once he dies in the hope of determining whether his mental health issues, or any future degenerative brain trauma, were linked to his on-field head knocks.

Support is available from Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

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