Australian football is meant to be hard. But the way we talk about it needs to soften | Jonathan Horn

The constant scrutiny and criticism of AFL players, as well as the stifling nature of being a pro footballer, is creating some very anxious and depressed young men

In recent times, a number of high profile Australian rules footballers, including Mitch Clark, Lance Franklin, Travis Cloke, Alex Fasolo and Tom Boyd, have absented themselves from the game to deal with mental health problems. Each time, the reaction is the same – “Look after yourself son”, “Thanks for starting the conversation.” But each time, there’s an underlying cynicism, a certain snark that reveals itself on footy forums, in safe company and in monumental gaffes.

Every time one these stories comes to light, I ponder those heroes of my childhood, men who played with a certain joy that is conspicuously missing these days. They were the last of the part-timers – granite jawed stars who were indestructible in my eyes and probably theirs as well. Did they simply bury their demons? If so, at what cost?

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