Essendon have thrown their support behind former AFL coach James Hird, who is understood to be recovering from an overdose.
The 43-year-old Hird, a father of four, was hospitalised on Wednesday night and was reportedly continuing to receive care at a mental health facility on Friday.
Bombers chairman Lindsay Tanner said the club would continue to support Hird and his family.
“On behalf of the entire Essendon family our thoughts are with James Hird and his family,” Tanner said in a club statement on Friday.
“This is a personal and private matter and we ask the media to respect the privacy of James and his family.
“The club will continue to offer its support to James and the Hird family.”
The shocking development has revived a troubled past that Essendon had hoped to leave behind this season with the return of players from their suspensions over the club’s supplements scandal during Hird’s tenure.
The Bombers trained for about two hours at their Tullamarine base on Friday, with senior players including captain Jobe Watson and his likely successor Dyson Heppell declining to comment on Hird’s situation.
Former Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett, chair of mental health group Beyond Blue, said it appeared Hird needed help.
“Assuming these stories have a basis of fact, this is a cry for help by an individual and I hope that he will get that help,” Kennett told SEN radio on Friday.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley did not reference Hird directly but took to Twitter to urge the public against making personal attacks on sportspeople.
“The presumption that people who play sport well are bullet proof allows personal attacks hidden behind ‘public interest’,” Buckley tweeted.
“Keep us honest and critically analyse professional efforts but allow clubs to manage and support people in their brilliance and foibles.”
Former North Melbourne player Wayne Schwass, a mental health campaigner, slammed media coverage as insensitive, particularly news outlets stationed outside Hird’s Melbourne home.
“Irrespective of what side you sit w/ Ess saga, health & wellbeing of a person should override everything. Were talking about someone’s life,” he tweeted.
“Shows total lack of understanding of the seriousness of MH issues & sensitive required when reporting them.”
Hird resigned as Essendon coach in August 2015 with his reputation irreparably damaged by the club’s supplements saga.
His tenure as coach was thrown into turmoil by the 2012 supplements program and subsequent Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation, which led to 34 past and present Bombers being banned for the 2016 season.
Before the supplements saga, Hird had been one of Windy Hill’s most-treasured sons, playing 253 games for Essendon and winning the Brownlow Medal in 1996.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.