Brent Reilly and SAHMRI

Last time I described how the Melbourne FinTech, Clover, commissioned me to write a 1,000-word blog post delving into why Aussie Rules Football (AFL) players need to take a long-term view of their futures. I went into how I got the job, how I constructed the post, how I secured an interview with Brent Reilly, and the challenges the work presented me with. Although it was a great job to work on, the whole experience did end on a low note because it was never published. My contact at Clover, Anthony Ryan, left the start-up. Recently, Elise Aplin at Clover confirmed that they're taking a different direction with their content. However, they're happy for me to publish extracts from what I wrote along with the interview with Brent. I've made a few edits expanding upon what I wrote, but no more than that.

Yes, I'm keen for what I wrote to see the light of day. However, as I mentioned in my last post, Clover and I were giving Brent a platform to discuss his work with Project Discovery at SAHMRI in exchange for his time (when paying people for their time isn't an option for budget reasons, this is the primary alternative). Not being able to fulfil that promise never sat well with me. Now, I'm happy to be able to correct that. The questions I asked him were on topic and didn't venture into his playing career or anything else. When I read Brent's answers I thought they were perfect for the topic and I came away feeling like I'd struck gold for Clover. If we'd been speaking face to face, I'd have been able to ask him some related or follow-up questions. Living on opposite sides of the planet means that only so much is possible.

Below are two extracts from the post I wrote for Clover. After those is the interview with Brent.


AFL Player Salaries

For all the talk of millionaires and high average salaries, the AFL’s 2015 rookies were guaranteed just A$55,440. BA graduates in the rest of the job market can fair just as well, if not better, in their first jobs following graduation. The median salary in 2014 for bachelor degree graduates aged under 25 in their first job was A$52,500.

AFL Player - rookie minimum salary vs BA graduate - first salary

A$55,440 for an AFL rookie might look pretty good, but he’ll net A$45,469.00. Subtract the rental cost of a one bedroom apartment in Melbourne’s suburbs and he’ll have less than half of his salary left. This is before all other costs such as food, utility/service bills, insurance etc are taken into account. Whilst AFL players are highly paid compared to Australian sports players, NFL rookies are guaranteed the equivalent of A$581,331.

The picture seems to change when we look at the average salary of AFL player. At A$302,104 t's more than double that of someone working in mining and increased at more than four times the rate of inflation in 2015.

AFL Player Average Salary vs Professional Average Salary

However, the average AFL player salary is distorted by four players earning over A$1 million. Remove those outliers and the average salary drops to about A$275,000. Even this isn’t representative because there are more players in the A$100,001 to A$200,000 salary bracket than any other.

An AFL player earning the average salary could expect to net A$184,125. At that stage in their career, a player might be thinking of buying a family home. The median price of a 3 bedroom house in Melbourne is $A718,000. If they got a 100% mortgage at a generous rate of 3.99% to be paid over 25 years, the household would repay A$45,430.92 a year. If partners split this equally, then the player’s left with A$161,409.54 or 53% of their salary.  The high average salary of an AFL player is still dwarfed by the A$2,847,693.36 of an NFL player.

However, AFL and other contact sports players run the risk of serious injuries. They can come from nowhere, ending playing careers in an instant. They can affect players and former players for the rest of their lives.  


AFL Concussions

A study of retired AFL players found correlations between

  • The number of games played and the number of serious injuries suffered
  • The number of serious injuries suffered and the number of concussions suffered
  • The number of serious injuries and the impact upon post-playing day-to-day life

Research by Dr. Alan Pearce, a neuroscientist at Geelong’s Deakin University, found that retired players had noticeably worse reaction times and fine motor control than people who’d never played a contact sport.

“With the reduction in fine movement control they could have difficulty with anything that required the use of the thumb and first finger such as putting in keys into doors”

— Dr Alan Pearce

Initial symptoms of concussion can include depression, irritability, amnesia, anxiety, and more. It’s also been discovered that 10% - 15% of concussion symptoms last longer than 10 days. We can all find it hard to piece together the best investments to make. Imagine trying to make such complex decisions when suffering from depression, amnesia or anxiety.


Interview with Brent Reilly

Brent's injury went far beyond concussion, though. In a freak training accident, he suffered a depressed skull fracture. This is unusual as most skull fractures are a single fracture. It was months before he was released from the hospital and when he was, it was with a metal plate in his head. Contact sport in all forms was out of the question, so what happened to Brent next? How did he find work at SAHMRI? How did he plan for the future?


Q1) What education did you undertake while playing to help you find a career after retiring from the AFL?

Brent: I have done some short courses since leaving AFL, but nothing formal.

Q2) What preparations did you make for retirement while playing in terms of organising your finances?

Brent: I have a really good Manager who also happens to be an accountant so he has helped me set myself up. I do have a share portfolio, and a house. I also have a mentor that Adelaide Football Club set me up with and he is an amazing businessman who has certainly help guide me.

Q3) What do you wish you'd done differently in making these preparations?

Brent: I am happy were (where) I am today. I certainly enjoyed myself and spent money having a good time however because of the mentorship and management I have I have been able to put some things in place. I think the key is to have people in your life that are there for the right reasons to guide you and prepare you for life after your sporting career.

Q4) After you left hospital following your skull fracture, what were the physical and mental health issues that impacted your life the most?

Q5) How did they affect your capability to manage simple tasks of fine motor control (such as putting a key in a lock, as mentioned in Dr. Pearce's summary of his research) and detailed thinking such as financial planning? (These two questions were answered as one by Brent).

Brent: At the beginning of my injury I certainly suffered with some blurb (blurred) vision and speaking was difficult, however I had a great support group around that have helped guide me through the transition from sporting career to where I am today. The Adelaide Football Club has always worked with the players to ensure that they are ready for life after football.

Q6) What was it about the Centre's work that made you want to get involved there?

Brent: I was actually first introduced to SAHMRI by my mentor and its an amazing place whether you work here or not. The work that is being done here is addressing issues that no one is researching, such as the correlation between the spin (spine) and neurological injuries. Obviously, with my own injury it’s great to be able to contribute to this work.

Q7) What's your role at the Centre?

Brent: Project Manager – Project Discovery and I am also part of the project team for Wellbeing and Resilience which is part of the Mind and Brian theme here at SAHMRI. (To learn more about Project Discovery please click here).

Q8) What health difficulties have you had to overcome or manage in order to be effective in your role at the Centre?

Brent: It has been a huge change in environment and also culturally. The football world is about the club as a whole with one goal to get to the finals but in the research sector everyone has their own projects and we are all trying to get to the finals. Sitting at a desk and working with a computer has also been quite challenging, as I was use (used) to training everyday and being active outdoors so that has taken some getting use to. To compensate (for) my sitting at the desk I ride to work each day and get up every hour and walk around the office.

Q9) If you were mentoring an AFL rookie, what would you tell them about training to prepare for a new career, financial planning, and monitoring their own mental health?

Brent: I think these days the AFL certainly does an amazing job of preparing their talent for life after football. Everyone knows that your career is quite short-lived compare(d) to other careers and that doesn’t include getting an injury that can wipe you out instantly. However I think I would say that get (getting) the right people in your football and personal life, people that have a purpose not just about taking their percentage of (or) commission. I would also say to do an accredited university course but lastly that it’s really important to make sure that your mental health is probably more important that (than) your physical. Most good sporting organisations say that it is 75% mental and 25% physical and I would agree with that.


Wrapping Up

As I mentioned in my last post, this work arrived at a challenging time in my life. I began work on it having come down with the flu the same morning and Brent's answers to my questions arrived an hour before news of my mother's death. At the time, holding it together to get anything done felt like a triumph. It's a shame that Clover wasn't able to publish my work, but employee turnover and resulting changes are a constant factor of the startup world. I'm grateful to Brent for taking some time to answer my questions - it's good to be able to even the scales.

Whether you're an Aussie Rules Football fan or not, I hope this has made you aware of how serious concussion can be. As Brent said, injury can wipe players out at any time, and this is as true of rookies as it is veterans like him.