When you think of your favourite sporting hero’s legacy it never normally ventures very far out of their chosen arena, no matter their global reach.
Nor do they often get to choose their legacy; it is often created off the back of accumulated individual accolades such as gold medals, MVPs or best fairests.
These players are often immortalised by statues, or with grandstands and training facilities bearing their name.
Never in world sport has an iconic player been memorialised in the way former St Kilda captain Danny Frawley was on Tuesday at the grand opening of the Danny Frawley Centre at RSEA Park in Moorabbin.
A champion remembered
Frawley will be forever remembered as a champion both on and off the field.
While wearing the number two for his beloved Saints he was a hard-nose fullback who held a club together that did not see much success during his tenure.
Off the field he was a loveable larrikin, making a name for himself as someone who would light up a room with his infectious personality and quickly bring you into the fold.
Despite his infectious personality, Spud battled demons.
However, instead of retreating into the shadows, Frawley used his platform and his infectious spirit to shine a light on the developing mental health crisis.
The centre that was eventually named in his honour was originally Frawley’s idea, leaning on St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis to help him turn his vision into a reality.
Spud knew that despite their professionalism, AFL clubs weren’t that different to their local counterparts. They were hubs for people to enjoy social connection and improve their physical health.
Why couldn’t they also invest in their communities mental health?
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His wife Anita remembered her husband’s relentless focus to get something like this off the ground, for his original club to give back to the community they were moving back into.
“I don’t think he had any idea it would be as big as this,” Anita said at the grand opening.
Frawley had a relatively simple philosophy about improving mental heath services, based on his lived experience.
“Danny felt that if he could get especially men to talk more and get people to open up and change the stigma, then you could get into early prevention.
“He was very much about change the stigma but get in there with early prevention and change how it progresses.”
Frawley was also a big believer in combining social connection with mental and physical health, an idea the Saints have since run with and placed at the core of the Danny Frawley Centres purpose.
“We think the idea of wrapping mental heath and physical health together along with the social connection, which Danny stood for has the power to bring people together and really unite them on a scale we haven’t seen done anywhere in the world,” CEO Matt Finnis said.
“If we can get it right, we can make a difference alongside the work the government is doing and what the health industry is doing we can ensure we have a thriving community.”
A new beginning
The opening of the centre signals the next phase not only for the Frawley family, but for the greater community as the focus shifts from raising awareness to prevention and treatment.
“This is a new beginning for the girls and I. After the last two and half years it feels like we have survived,” Anita said.
“Losing someone so tragically has been horrific but there are plenty of other families out there going through the same thing and we want to be able to let them know that you can survive if you get the right help.
“This building, what we are doing, we can get you the help, there’s support groups, there’s psychologists. We couldn’t have got through it without the support that we have had.”
The centre will also look to revolutionise both past and present player welfare, an area that has considered to be lacking for some time in many professional sporting organisations.
“I have no doubt that players and athletes are talking more about their mental health, but I also have no doubt that we have a long way to go,” Finnis said.
“Our ambition for the Danny Frawley Centre is that it becomes a beacon for supporting athletes past and present and their communities in a holistic way.
“Sport is brutal, it’s competitive, but ultimately, as much as we admire our athletes and players for what they do on the field, they’re human beings and they aren’t immune from the pressure that we all face.
“So, if we can up the ante and provide better support then I think that sends a strong message to the broader community that you can get help and you can work on your mental fitness and your physical fitness.”
While it’s the first of its kind in the world, Anita hopes that the actions of the St Kilda Football Club can reverberate around the world and more sporting organisations can employ similar tactics to combat the scourge that is mental health disease.
“I’m very proud of the club and what they’ve done,” she said.
“I think they are the leaders and I hope everyone else takes their lead because there is no better thing than sport to bring them together and connect them.”
The first phase of the Danny Frawley Centre will open it’s doors to to the public on Monday, March 7th. Its hydrotherapy and lap pools as well as psychologist offices are set to kickstart the public use of the facility while phase two construction gets underway.
The second phase is expected to be completed within the year and will consist of a public access gym, yoga studios and mindfulness spaces .
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