Jeff White Has His Mojo Back.
And is putting it out there to help others – one message at a time.
The former Melbourne star admits that he fell into a dark place after going through a major health crisis and several personal upheavals in the last few years.
But he dug himself out by mining the common sense lessons of persistence and resilience he learned as an AFL player.
Now he is using those same tools to help others back from the brink, regain their self-identity and reset mind and body.
“I knew straight away I was shot. I had no self-esteem or self-identity.“
“This is what I love doing, I think I have found my calling. I just love putting the positivity out,” he said.
“People fighting their own battles have really connected with my content because they can see I have been through it, that it is authentic and they can reach out to me and ask for help and I can help guide them.”
That content is an ongoing series of self-help messaging and homespun wisdom that White posts on his social media channels. The basis is identifying strengths and weaknesses and concentrating on only those things in your orbit that are controllable.
The driving force for ‘Discover Self-Love’ came from White’s personal experiences. In August 2017, he had a stroke and doctors found a hole in his heart, He had heart surgery and two days later found out he was being sued by a previous investor. It took him two months to raise capital to repay the debt.
And then, three days after that saga ended, his wife left him. “In the space of six months, I went through some incredible trauma and pain, stress, anxiety, regrets, all the stuff that goes with it. Then in 2020 I fell in love again but, a year later, she left me without explanation, although we were talking marriage and kids.
“I knew straight away I was shot. I had no self-esteem or self-identity, nothing, because I had not put in any time from my physical trauma and setbacks to heal myself. The constant messages in my head were cloudy and negative, there was just no light inside.”
Neale [Daniher] gave it to me and I feel I am handing the torch over in giving it to others who need it.
The trick for White’s Self-Love success is not that people are looking up to a consistent and resilient athlete who played 268 AFL games. It’s that he’s fallible – like them.
A person who felt vulnerable and went into freefall, but one day stopped himself just before hitting his bottom.
That day was 26 September, 2021, the day after the Demons won the flag. “I’m a fan of the game now and to celebrate the flag with my three sons was huge, they have been supporters through a really bad time for the footy club. Seeing their faces and hugging them, there was a lot of emotion,” he said. “I cried and it was genuine crying. Because I was happy, but also because I wasn’t mentally in the right place. I was upset because I heard just before the game my ex-girlfriend was already seeing someone else. I was 121 kg, really overweight, and I had no energy. I was walking around with a fake smile. I knew I had to change.”
White, who is also full-time carer for his three young sons, contacted a sports psychologist who helped him through 2003 when trade whispers were becoming roars. In 2004 he won All-Australian honors.
White used those late 2021 psychology sessions to reset. He found solace in old routines and structured his days like when he was playing. No stress. Staying present. Feeding mind and body only positive fuel. And, essentially, he removed the noise.
THE NEED FOR HELP
When White was a young player with Fremantle he would dominate for East Perth, but crumble on game day for the Dockers because he stressed so much before the event he had nothing left for the match. Removing the noise was a major factor in him becoming an elite ruckman.
“So, like in 2003, I wrote down my problems and put a line through the ones I could not control. I didn’t like what I was seeing on social media, I removed myself. I wanted to lose weight, so I ate better and ran,” he said. And he started writing encouraging messages to himself.
This can be traced back to Neale Daniher, White’s ‘second father’ who mentored him for 13 of his 14 years in AFL as Melbourne head coach and Fremantle assistant.
“He is a great motivator and got the best out of people. I remember he’d stand up, even though we were in a team environment, and point at players during meetings and ask ‘what are you doing to improve?’
Players would say ‘I can improve my left foot or running patterns’.
“Then suddenly you start thinking differently: if each individual can get five to 10% better how much better can we get as a team?
“That is what I am trying to do, if I can help people improve that five to 10% I am happy.”
Midway through his career, White started writing motivational messages to himself after a bad game and placed print outs in his wallet, car and training bag so he would be constantly reminded of what he needed to do.
Then last year, when he started feeling better within himself, White found himself writing messages of encouragement on post-it notes and stuck them around his neighborhood. After some positive feedback, he placed them on his Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. Now, he has so many messages he literally filled a book.
“What I write is relatable to what I’ve been through, but it’s amazing how many people relate to that. Many males reach out privately, one sent a message today and thanked me for making him cry. It is spine-tingling stuff.
“That’s what I am trying to do. I’ve always been a very positive person, but it just wasn’t there in the last few years. I’ve written over 400 quotes and I can see how it helps people and that inspires me to keep going. For instance. A guy contacted me on Instagram. He’d just finished playing high-level footy, he was lost and drinking daily. I suggested he do something different. So he went to a coffee shop and bumped into someone he hadn’t seen for three years who’d just started a personal training business.”
“Then suddenly you start thinking differently: if each individual can get five to 10% better, how much better can we get as a team?
But sliding door moments have directed Ray’s journey. His first umpiring gig came when he rocked up to watch his brother play, but asked by the club president to umpire as the real ump had not shown up. He was paid in petrol.
“At half time a local footy legend, Bob Stacey, came up and asked: ‘how long you been doing this? I said 45 minutes,” Ray laughs.
“Bob said I could make six figures umpiring part-time. I was 17 and running pizzas at Eagle Boys where the bonus structure was how many free garlic breads you could get. He had my attention”. And so Ray started umpiring.
“I was a unicorn, playing rep footy and rep cricket, when every other umpire was 60. It was a unique time in my life. “One day you’re punching on with guys in the U18s and literally the next day you’re umpiring them in the U19s. I had to decide. I wasn’t good enough for AFL and $50 a week playing for the Tugga reserves wasn’t floating my boat”.
Ray was umpiring on weekends while earning an Education Degree at the University of Canberra when a random phone call changed his life.
“A friend asked if I could umpire a couple of games. I had no idea of the context, so I arrive and it’s the State Championships. I did the games and was selected to officiate the grand final. From there I was sent to the National Championships in Darwin. I got picked for that grand final, then they sent a team to Ireland for the first time in 12 years and I was selected.
“I met (current AFL Talent Ambassador) Kevin “Shifter” Sheehan in Ireland and that’s when I realised there was a structure to umpiring. Like the players. That’s when I decided that I am into this. I was hooked.”
He then toiled for the next decade to become an AFL umpire. His pathway was, after graduating as a teacher in 1998, to accept a VFL contract while teaching physical education at Mordialloc College.
Sliding doors. He met his wife in Melbourne and they share two daughters. He does the media thing, daddy day care, runs the Chamberlain Foundation with his brothers and juggles a financial advisory firm, a career he pivoted into to fit around league umpiring.
And, although Ray has left teaching, he said some soft skills transferred well.
“We are all wired differently and respond differently. You don’t play golf with just a driver and a putter, sometimes you need different clubs in your bag. The teaching absolutely helps with the umpiring.”
“There was a lady in America. Her fiancée died in October, her mother died of COVID and her brother was murdered, all in a few months. She said my messages resonated with her, that she reads them every day and they give her a sense of purpose and keep her present.”
He signed up for an eight-week challenge. Now he’s three weeks free of alcohol. It was just a simple bit of guidance but him reaching out took courage.
“And there was a lady in America. Her fiancée died in October, her mother died of COVID and her brother was murdered, all in a few months. She said my messages resonated with her, that she reads them every day and they give her a sense of purpose and keep her present.”
White was raised in Dandenong, in Melbourne’s south, with the passion and instinctive behavior of a future AFL player. Rain, hail or shine he was kicking a Sherrin, he took it to school and bed and it sat beside him on the couch.
A mercurial junior talent for the Stingrays, he was told by the Dockers eight weeks before the 1994 draft that would take him at number one. But, after three years in Perth, he returned to Melbourne because he wanted to play at the MCG. He picked the Demons as their coach, Neale Daniher, had been his Dockers systems coach. White’s career spanned 14 years and there is little doubt the mobile, athletic ruck with good coordination adept at hitting moving targets with hand and foot would thrive in today’s game.
After retiring in 2008, he moved to the Gold Coast for a part-time coaching role with a fledgling Suns outfit while whittling his golf handicap down to scratch. After a stint in the back offices of local radio station Hot Tomato, he became an entrepreneur with multiple businesses, including a digital content agency called White Echo. He also invented retractable goal posts called Post High.
White’s life, in fact, was on a good trajectory until August, 2017. “When we found the hole in the heart I rang Neale to say that must be why I ran last in all the time trials. Life comes at you from different angles and I’m glad to be still here to tell the story.
“There was a tremendous amount of community support and others who had the same thing who made contact and it was comforting to help them through the trauma.
“The hole had also caused dizzy spells since 2009, that scared me because I didn’t know why it was happening, I fell and broke my nose, got concussed, it caused neck injuries, so it was also good to solve that.
“I caught up with Neale recently and told him all I’d been through and he was blown away and proud about the self-identity stuff and how much of the philosophy was from him, Neale gave it to me and I feel I am handing the torch over in giving it to others who need it.”
For all his own messages, the one he will never forget came from Neale after White had the stroke. It read: ‘Hey Whitey, just remember this, your health is your wealth’. “Coming from someone suffering what he is suffering, it really hit me. He’s an incredible human. He was given a five-year life expectancy, it’s now 12, I truly believe it goes back to what he asked us when we were first picked in the Reserves or Seniors ‘how can you improve things, because your effort will collectively help us as a team’.
“And this is exactly what he’s been doing with MND. It’s about him creating awareness for a debilitating disease. I hadn’t heard about it until he was diagnosed, and now everyone knows. The sad part is they might find a cure after he has passed away. But that’s just him – he wants to solve something that should be solved. And he was just so happy that we had won the flag. I retired in 2008 and had not experienced an AFL premiership, I barracked for St Kilda as a kid, played for Melbourne in a losing grand final, there was a lot of emotion.
“The win also made me so proud of the players that have worn the red and the blue since the last premiership. A lot of the sentimental value of the (2021) win, I feel, has to do with the sadness and the loss of past players the club has gone through. Jim Stynes stands out. All the heartache and pain, the coach changes, it was just a huge combination.
“And I was just proud to have had my little bit of history with the Melbourne Football Club.”