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Injury: The silent killer of athletes

Injury: The silent killer of athletes

By Adamo De Nigris


Mosese Fotuaika (Left) took his life in 2013 after tearing a pectoral muscle. Hayden Butler (Right) took his life in 2015, after injuring his ankle. Both athletes were 20 years old. Photos taken by Getty Images.


At 20 years old promising Mackay Cutters’ Rugby player, Hayden Butler though he had it made. A trial game in which he was injured that year knocked him out for the season and the squad, leading to him taking his own life.

Similarly, in 2013, promising West Tigers youth player, Mosese Fotuaika, was on the verge of breaking into the Tiger’s first grade team, until he tore his pectoral muscle, ruling him out for the season. The news that his season was over shattered Fotuaika, who took his own life at the age of 20.

It is an increasingly common trend that mental health issues can result from serious sporting injuries.

Renowned sports phycologist, Dr Joel Curtis, has dealt with mental health cases amongst youth athletes and believes problems can stem from a variety of issues.

“Some youth athletes do feel pressure to stay injury free, the environmental factors around them have a big bearing on this. If parents or coaches are putting extra pressure on athletes to perform, then staying injury free can become a big focus,” he said.

“Very often young athletes can feel very anxious and upset if they are cut from a team, or feel as though they can’t make a team.

Youth suicide is becoming a prominent issue in Australian sports, with five young rugby league athletes taking their own life since 2013, including Fotuaika and Butler.

Dr Curtis believes this issue can be managed by youth athletes having an alternative career plan, in case they do not make professional sports.

“It is so important that young athletes have a back-up plan,” he said.

“Not having anything to fall back on can lead to depression/anxiety. It can also lead to social issues such as drugs/alcoholism/unemployment.

“Young athletes need a plan B, sports can’t be the only thing in their life.”

Life outside of professional sport almost became a reality for the GWS Giants Vice Captain, Stephen Coniglio. Last year, aged 23, Coniglio suffered consecutive syndesmosis injuries, which almost derailed his career.


Stephen Coniglio (pictured above) has dealt with the mental demons of injury, after suffering twin ankle injuries in 2017. Photo taken by Rob Forsaith.


The first injury occurred during the last week of the 2017 pre-season and required surgery. He returned eight weeks later in round seven against St Kilda, only to repeat the same injury a week later which ruled him out for ten weeks.

“My second injury was devastating but to be honest it was easier for me (than the first). Easier for me in the fact that I knew I could come back from it, as I had done before,” he said.

“I had also done lots of psychology training to prepare me for such obstacles and I knew dwelling on it could do nothing to help me back. Knowing I was going to have surgery also helped.”

Coniglio recovered in time for the finals, and was one of Giants’ most consistent players as they made it to the preliminary final.  He acknowledges the role his club had in helping him come back from twin ankle injuries.

He said: “Giants offered me all sorts of support networks, I didn’t use counselling but reached out to players in the broader AFL community who had done the same injury.

“They (Giants) supplied me with physio all the time, our club doctor, podiatrist and also the surgeon whenever I needed to, I asked him anything.”

These strong support networks, are crucial for players managing serious injuries according to Dr Curtis.

“Generally with the right environments, youth athletes don’t feel much pressure to stay injury free.” he said.

“If positive support networks are offered to athletes than they usually respond well,  when injured and recovering”.

19 year old Andres Rossini was training with the South Sydney Rabbitohs under 20s squad. An upcoming trial match provided Rossini with the chance to prove himself to coaches and make the final squad.

“I was taking a run and as I was getting tackled around the legs my ankle rolled. I heard a crack and I felt a sharp pain above my left ankle, I came off straight away,” he said.

“I couldn’t play the rest of the game and after I went for scans and the doctor told me I had syndesmosis, which is a high ankle sprain and I needed surgery.”

In order to recover from surgery, Rossini would be sidelined for six weeks. Once his coaches found out, he was cut from the training squad.


Andres Rossini (pictured above) has moved on from his injury and is focused on his life after rugby league. Photo taken by Adamo De Nigris.


“I was devastated, I had always dreamt of playing footy and now it was over because of some freakish bad luck.

“I never heard back from Souths after that but luckily my friends and family supported me through this hard time and I had TAFE to fall back on.”

If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.



I have taken Diane’s advice and used a delayed lead for my piece. By using two strong anecdotes at the start of my story, the angle is still clear and I believe the piece has a better flow. Also, I have used Stephen Coniglio’s story of survival earlier in the piece, as it is more notable and likely to capture a reader’s attention. Furthermore, I added more Dr Curtis quotes in the piece to add more expert opinion as well as trimming down some of other quotes in the piece, namely from Andres Rossini. Ultimately, I believe that I have strengthened this articles in regards overall structure as well as appeal to a viewer.

Sub – edited by Oliver Kuskie

Original piece by Adamo De Nigris, MDIA 3010, Subbed Project 1.