150-game Collingwood, Richmond veteran Craig Stewart’s CTE diagnosis rocks AFL

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Former Collingwood and Richmond star Craig Stewart has become the latest former footballer diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a revealed that will send chills through the AFL.

Stewart, the father of recently delisted Essendon defender James Stewart, died in June 2023 at the age of 66.

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But the Herald Sun has reported that an analysis of Stewart’s brain revealed he was battling Stage I CTE when he died.

CTE is believed to be caused by repeated head knocks and concussions only able to be diagnosed after death.

Stage I is commonly marked by headaches and loss of attention or concentration, even short-term memory loss.

Stage II CTE includes depression and mood swings, while some patients also experience executive dysfunction, impulsivity and suicidal thoughts. It’s believed AFL great Danny Frawley was diagnosed Stage II.

The likes of Shane Tuck and Polly Farmer were also diagnosed with CTE after death, as well as AFLW premiership winner Heather Anderson.

James Stewart told the Herald Sun: “We are very sad to finally receive the specialist medical report from the ASBB confirming that Craig had CTE.

“However, it does give us a better understanding of his deteriorating health and behaviour over the past few years.

“CTE is a devastating illness but a preventable one.

“Our hearts go out to all families affected by this preventable disease.’’

Stewart’s manager Peter Jess added he had observed changes in the “mood and behavioural patterns” of his friend over the past 15 years.

“I watched a once great proud man disintegrate in front of me and his family,” Jess said.

Jess also revealed that Stewart had helped raise funding for early clinical studies of Dr Alan Pearce, one of Australia’s leading concussion scientists, from 2011.

“It’s no longer an if or a maybe, it’s a reality that continuous head trauma creates untold damage to the brain,” Jess said.

“What we’ve created is a whole concept of a ‘walking dead’ or at least a ticking time bomb on the back of repeated dysfunctional behaviour, which has an enormous cost to society.

“The AFL has been made aware in the past 10 to 15 years the wives and families have no support mechanisms in place when their partners are impacted by brain damage from playing AFL.”

Stewart had an immediate impact in the AFL after walking into Collingwood’s 1978 team and impressing coach Tom Hafey.

He was awarded the best first year player title after managing 21 games in his debut season.

Nicknamed ‘Snaggles’, Stewart went on to play 115 games for the Magpies – including back-to-back grand finals in 1980 and 1981 – and kick 122 goals.

The 193cm big man collected six-goal hauls twice in his time at Collingwood.

But he ended up getting traded to Richmond where he finished his career with a further 35 games, between 1984 and 1986.

The news comes as the AFL signed off on new rules, including a crackdown on overzealous smothers like the one that resulted in Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw being badly concussed in the 2023 finals.

It’s also nearly 12 months since a group that’s grown to more than 70 players launched a class action lawsuit against the AFL for compensation over concussion and head injuries.

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