PERHAPS the hardest part of all of this is that everyone feels guilty yet there is no-one to blame.
As macabre as it sounds, when news was filtering through on Monday afternoon that North Queensland Cowboys player Alex Elisala was on life support following an off-field incident, part of me hoped it was a tragic accident; something that could be explained once the grieving process had taken its course.
While we still await findings from the coroner as to the exact nature of Alex’s passing, it appears this was another young man who needed help yet didn’t know who or how to ask.
Rugby league is one of the toughest sports on the planet and the men and women who play it are taught from a very young age to never show weakness and to never show an opponent you are hurting. When you are belted you are expected to get up, dust yourself off and never once complain that you have been treated unfairly.
In the space of two months we have had to farewell two young men who seemingly had such bright futures ahead of them, young men who found joy in rugby league yet were hurting off the field.
The NRL will soon launch a campaign in line with this year’s State of Origin Series called ‘State of Mind’, which will shine further light on depression and mental health issues. But it is obvious now we need a more concerted, year-round campaign.
This is not an issue we can fix in a matter of weeks; it requires a dramatic cultural shift in the way young men in particular perceive what is expected of them in modern society.
Among the hundreds of messages on Twitter on Monday night, South Sydney utility Nathan Peats admitted he had once struggled and was too embarrassed to ask for help. Speaking to his father on Tuesday, he admitted that he has to drag Nathan’s innermost thoughts out of him.
These are young men with welfare officers working within the same walls of the clubs they play for, yet even in their darkest times they cannot bring themselves to reach out and ask for a helping hand.
Perhaps the strong family bonds they share means we need to pay special attention to the needs of young men of Polynesian heritage. Or perhaps we simply need to work harder to rid ourselves as a society of the perception that by asking for assistance you are somehow less of a man.
There is nothing I can say to the friends and family of Alex and the entire North Queensland Cowboys organisation other than on behalf of everyone at Big League and the rugby league community as a whole, we are deeply saddened by your loss.
And to every young man or woman playing rugby league around the country or simply reading this magazine as a fan of the game, please know that your toughness isn’t compromised by asking for help.
If you feel you need someone to talk to please call Lifeline on 131 114.