Michael Barlow fears for fringe players. Picture: Getty
Michael Barlow fears for fringe players. Picture: Getty

Schwass fears ‘human cost’ of savage AFL staff cuts

NORTH Melbourne great Wayne Schwass says he fears the "human cost" of the COVID-19 crisis will be significant as AFL clubs continue their savage staff cuts.

Clubs have been reduced to skeleton staffs throughout the shutdown and will be limited to 25 people inside the football department when the season resumes, leaving many assistant coaches, fitness and nutrition staff without a job.

Growing anxiety amid the playing ranks is also an increasing concern due to the enforced pay cuts and uncertainty around quarantine hubs, contracts and list sizes for next season.

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Schwass, one of Australian sport's leading mental health advocates, said the staff who have been let go were among those most at risk.

"We haven't seen the full economic impact yet, but it is the human toll that most concerns me," Schwass said.

"There are people who have only known football and have lost their income and now their identity is questioned.

"When you get through the initial shock of it all, the reality of the situation hits and that is, 'What do I do now?

"I will have to go and pack shelves at Coles. If that doesn't strip you bare, then I don't know what does."

Schwass said it was vital that clubs maintained strong mental health support personnel as demand for their services ramps up across the country.

Wayne Schwass fears the human cost of the AFL’s imminent cuts. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Wayne Schwass fears the human cost of the AFL’s imminent cuts. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

The Roos' premiership hero said the Australian mental health system was already battling to cope before the pandemic cast its devastating impacts across the nation.

"The problem here is that people will fall through the cracks," he said.

"And I'm not trying to overstate this or dramatise it, but my greatest fear is when we get through this and in 12 months' time we have the figures for suicide, they will be through the roof.

"It is horrible (to think about), but that is the human cost that I'm talking about."

Clubs face difficult decisions determining who remained among the 25. At least one doctor and one psychologist were compulsory in the football department.

Schwass said football needed to "wrap its arms around its people" including those who were out of work.

"What is really important is we create safe spaces where people can feel like they can talk openly and honestly," Schwass said.

"'Sucking it up' and 'pushing through' is not going to help us at the moment.

"And I would be having the same conversations with the people who have been laid off.

"If we don't keep them connected, and engaged, and we don't have regular conversations, then people do fall through the cracks. We can't have that."


Ex-Fremantle star Michael Barlow says the COVID-19 crisis has created a recipe for anxiety and "mental anguish" among hundreds of uncontracted players facing uncertain futures.

Barlow says the AFL's ruling that AFL-listed players are unable to play in state leagues intensifies the pressures facing fringe players because they have no way to prove their worth.

He told the Herald Sun veteran players already worried about life post-football would face the reality a job in the AFL was suddenly unavailable due to massive staff cuts.

Collingwood's Lynden Dunn has already spoken about that plight and James Sicily revealed Hawthorn veteran Ricky Henderson feared he might have played his last game when the AFL shut down its season.

Henderson at least will start Round 2 in the senior side but Barlow, who played 141 games for Fremantle and Gold Coast, said the lack of VFL access for AFL-listed players was a cruel setback.

Ricky Henderson feared he may have played his last AFL game. Picture: Michael Klein
Ricky Henderson feared he may have played his last AFL game. Picture: Michael Klein

"There is a lot of anxiety and tenseness for all those guys and everyone is going through job cuts and redundancies," Barlow said.

"But for them that anxiety and tension is around them confronting their career mortality and at the same time realising what is going on in the wider world is significant.

"It won't be as easy getting a job in a footy club, whether it's with an academy or as an assistant coach or in footy operations. It's certainly not just confined to their footy.

"From my experience when I finished at Freo, players are very savvy about understanding where they are at. I always knew how many players on the list were out of contract. When I finished at the Suns, I looked around early in the season and knew who was out of contract.

"So it was myself, Matt Rosa, Jesse Lonergan and two or three others and you do that maths sitting there with six out of contract knowing the club had to get rid of three players and more if they went badly."

Michael Barlow celebrates a goal for the Dockers. Picture: Getty
Michael Barlow celebrates a goal for the Dockers. Picture: Getty

Barlow said players ignored at senior selection would usually have state-league form to push their case for a potential trade.

"You might be a victim of circumstances, you might be the fourth or fifth-best mid at the Giants but if you go out and play really strongly and have 45 possessions that gets acknowledged across the industry," Barlow said.

"Again, it's going to be unprecedented. How do you handle the pressure and the frustrations? If you are out of favour at an AFL club you still got to play a game and when you dial it back you play because you love the game.

"So even in my periods at Fremantle in 2016 when I was dropped you got to go out and compete (in the WAFL). There is a mental anguish (in not doing that) and going out and exercising and feeling the endorphins of playing sport."