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Tuck Flies

The Australian Sports Brain Bank has revealed the late Shane Tuck had a severe case of CTE, making him the third AFL player - after Graham "Polly Farmer and Danny Frawey - to have suffered from the crippling neurological disorder. The former Richmond star died in July last year at the age of 38 after a lengthy battle with mental health issues. Tuck’s family agreed to donate his brain to the Brain Bank and it was revealed he had stage three CTE.  Neuropathologist  Michael Buckland said, “It’s the worst case I’ve seen so far. It was actually quite shocking, the degree of disease he had.” Tuck was the youngest of the three, Farmer was 84 and Frawley 56. Buckland continued, “Those cases span three generations of players. What’s disturbing is that the worst case is the most recent, and also the youngest.” According to Buckland, there is a build up of a protein called tau in those with CTE.  “Once I got the tau stains back, it was the first time I didn’t need a microscope to make the diagnosis. There was so much tau I could see it with the naked eye.”

Tuck was originally drafted by his father's club Hawthorn, but was delisted at the end of 2002. He crossed to the SANFL and then signed by Richmond in 2003. He played 173 games with the Tigers and dabbled at boxing (five bouts) after his retirement. Tuck was the son of Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck (over 400 games) and his mother Fay is the sister of Gary Ablett Sr. His diagnosis came as a kind of solace to his family, including sister Renee and brother Travis (who also played AFL), and his wife Katherine and two children in Adelaide. Shane Tuck lived with his parents for the last 18 months of his life, and they watched his deterioration in anguish. Fay said, “He was intelligent enough to know that there was something wrong with his brain. He continually told us that he didn’t feel like himself. We tried every avenue ... to find out what it was that was distressing Shane so much. Shane was never aggressive or violent. In fact, he was placid. He wanted to try all avenues he could to help himself, even when he knew nothing would work. He knew he was getting worse. There was no medication that would help.” Michael told the Herald Sun about his son's struggles,  “It’s hard to explain right now … shock, pain. 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.”

When Fay read the story about Farmer, she remarked to a family member that it might be what Shane had. That was when they decided to donate his brain when he died, "We needed some answers ... She and Michael hope others follow suit. The family does not blame the AFL. A league spokesman said, “We thank the Tuck family for their support of ongoing research ... We take very seriously the health and safety of all present, past and future players ... and are currently interview“ing for a position at the AFL that will specifically focus on the work we are doing ... to respond to the issue of concussion .... We continue to change the laws of the game to discourage high contact and are using the ARC (the league’s review hub) to provide another opportunity to identify potential concussive incidents through the use of world leading video technology but we are committed to continually reviewing our response.”

CTE is still a challenge for researchers who depend on donations from deceased athletes. Much of the information comes from the USA with over 600 cases recorded, primarily in hockey and American football. Recently, an English project uncovered CTE in four of six retired soccer players. The first Australian to be diagnosed with CTE in 2013 was former NSW Waratahs rugby coach Barry “Tizza” Taylor, whose brain was sent to Boston for analysis. His. son, who passed away last July at the age of 56, was also found to have CTE, even though he quit rugby when he was 16.

Because CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, it is difficult to pinpoint one cause or starting point. Tuck did not have a history of major concussions. And CTE was not explicitly caused by one or several concussions anyway according to Buckland, “What researchers found correlated well with CTE was the number of years playing. The idea there is the concept of sub-concussive injuries, the blows to the head that don’t lead to an obvious concussion, but still probably are causing some trouble in the brain. It’s fine if you get one or two, but if you get 10,000, you’re a risk. We’re very conscious of trying not to sound too alarmist. We don’t want to give the impression to all those ex-footy players out there that they need to be really, really worried. The information we want to push is that it is an occupational risk and a public health concern. The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging you have a problem. I’m not sure all the sporting codes have yet taken the first step.”

The Tuck family urge anyone who might find themselves in their shoes to donate a brain. They still grieve the loss of their son and brother, but now with some sense of closure. “You know there’s a reason why he did it,” said Michael. “It wasn’t because he was a lunatic or any sort of substance or anything like that. He was just in pain.”

In light of this, there are reports the AFL could introduce significant changes to their return-to-play protocols for players returning from concussion. Should it be introduced, players will be required to rest for 10 days instead of the current seven. LaTrobe University neuroscientist Dr Alan Pearce welcomed the change, “By extending out the timeline to 10 days … that will ensure that players do get a little bit more rest than they need.” According to Pearce, it can take up to a month to recover from a concussion but said players might try to suppress symptoms if told they had to take a month off. He would like to see the rule applied at all levels for all clubs, “We see more concussion at the club level than we do at the elite level. Having mandatory time off ... would be good for the health and welfare of players.”

Geelong captain Joel Selwood has voiced his approval for the possible stricter rules. Regarded as one of the toughest players in the league, he has admitted his concerns of the potential impact head blows might have on his health, “You probably do [think about your health more] as you get older. Life gets a bit more serious as you get older, too, but I have unbelievable respect in what our doctors have done in the past and will do in the present."

Selwood, renowned for playing with injuries, was diagnosed with concussion on three occasions but missed just one game after each one. Now he will have no qualms about sitting out almost two weeks if he suffers another concussion, regardless of the time of the season, “As players we just have to listen. I don’t think there should be anyone complaining. I think you will find the players will jump on. Whether it is a grand final or not they will just get with the program.”




Article last changed on Monday, March 01, 2021 - 8:54 PM EST


Posted by Allenwood on July 31, 2023

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