Jonathan Hay (born 13 August 1979) is a former Australian rules footballer who played in the Australian Football League (AFL). Born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, Hay began his football career at Kalgoorlie Catholic Primary School and John Paul College before moving to Perth in 1991. Hay played reserves football for East Fremantle Football Club in 1996 before being drafted by Hawthorn Football Club at the 1996 national AFL draft. In 2001, he earned All-Australian selection.
In 2004, an injury interrupted Hay's season, but he showed some signs of improvement in 2005. He then left the club at the end of the season and was traded to North Melbourne. The 26-year-old Hay made his debut with the Kangaroos in 2006 , but he “made several simple skill errors, with many commentators bemoaning his constant turnovers to the opposition and his poor disposal in defence”. This led to Hay being dropped from the side.
Hay's fall from grace as a footballer led to the announcement on 28 August 2006 that he suffered from bipolar disorder either exacerbated or 'brought on by drugs and alcohol'. But this did not tell the whole story as we shall see. After disputes over his contract during the 2007 pre-season, it was announced on the day of the Kangaroos' first NAB Cup game that Hay would be retiring from the AFL. His contract was paid out in full.
On 29 March 2007, an interview by Craig Hutchison with Hay was aired on The Footy Show. Hay said during the interview he wanted the chance to tell Kangaroos supporters and the football public in general the reason for his sub-standard form, which he cited as not only his bipolar disorder, but his heavy reliance on prescription medication. In news reports of the interview, the media focused more on Hay's admission of drug use and missed the key point that, like Paul Gascoigne, Hay's bipolar 'disorder' was what made him a brilliant footballer and that the medication was what had taken the gift away. Hay, just like Gascoigne used alcohol as a means of trying to cope with the excesses of mania.
Hay said at another interview: "I want to make a public statement to explain why this year has gone bad for me, on and off the field. This is needed because of the significant disappointment and confusion that has resulted, and the associated negative publicity. I'd rather not be sitting here today, but things have come to a point that for my own benefit, and in the interests of the club, my teammates and all the supporters, I need to give an explanation as to why I've had the year I've had. Three years ago I was diagnosed with a mental health problem known as bipolar depression. I sought treatment for this and for a time it was successful and I made a good recovery. Unfortunately during the course of this year I became unwell again and this time the treatment has been less successful and I struggled to recover. The illness has directly affected my form and at times my wellbeing and behaviour off the field. I am …. doing all in my power to ensure that I can recover fully and return to consistent senior football. I want to publicly thank my teammates and North Melbourne Football Club for standing by me through this difficult time."
The medication did not help him. Although allegations of both drug abuse and binge drinking have surrounded Hay, his biggest problem is alcohol – a characteristic feature of those who struggle with bipolar illness as its sedative effects have a calming effect in the worst periods of manic excess. In June, he was fined $5000 after he was caught drinking at Wrest Point Casino in Hobart the night before a VFL game with Tasmania. He later fell foul of the club when he failed to attend a compulsory Friday training session.
His psychiatrist was there at the interview to support him, but one wonders whether his good intentions may not have contributed to the problems, he did not need to be 'cured' or 'corrected'
"Bipolar depression is …. associated with mood swings -- hence the term bipolar ...I think we have to have a lot of optimism here today about Jon's future but he has been through a very rough period, which has been seriously misinterpreted in the public mind, and that's what we're trying to correct here today......It's a very nasty thing to be working through and it has major effects on your life" .
Kangaroos Chief Executive Geoff Walsh said Hay, who had two years of a $1 million three-year deal to run, had the support of the club and his teammates.
"What he has had to put up with in terms of dealing with the illness in the face of this barrage of malicious rumour and unfounded gossip is something I can only imagine how difficult that was for Jon."
Perhaps especially fascinating is that more and more talented and inspired football players have come forward to admit similar problems and offer their support. Nathan Thompson, revealed his battle with depression in 2004. And at the interview Wayne Schwass, a former Roos and Swans player who hid the secret of his own traumatic battle with depression for more than 14 years, lauded Hay for having the courage to go public.
"Hopefully what this does today is gives an explanation and also some meaning to some of the events that have happened this year and that moving forward now gives some space for Jon to get himself right. It's about the person right now, not about the football player."
What has also emerged is that the so called 'drugs' that some of the players are accused of taking are all pharmaceuticals – prescription medicines, which means that someone somewhere is mis-prescribing.
“Many players routinely ingest or are injected with a cocktail of stimulants, anti-inflammatories, pain killers, anti-nausea drugs and possibly a sleeping pill nightcap”
Some like Ben Cousins have ended up in hospital after reacting to the pharmaceuticals – in his case a sleeping tablet.
Let's hope Jon and his fellow players see the problems just about every gifted sportsperson from George Best to Paul Gascoigne have faced, not as a battle to be fought using pharmaceuticals, but a battle with depression and not mania. And a battle better fought with the methods of suppression not more overload.
In October 2008 Jonathan announced his intention to make a football comeback in 2009 after signing with suburban club Langwarrin, but a snapped achilles tendon during a training drill in March 2009 forced him to miss the season.
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