This evening the E.J. Whitten Foundation Race Night is named in honour of the legendary footballer and personality Ted Whitten, who in an era that men didn’t openly talk about their health, sparked the push for change.
Born on July 27, 1933, Whitten was raised in the western suburbs of Melbourne and ironically grew up barracking for the Footscray Football Club, the team he would later go on to play 321 games for and be remembered as one of the richest characters to play the game.
Whitten began his career with Braybrook and would play for Collingwood Amateurs on Saturday. They saw the talent in him but thought it was premature and suggested to try out for the senior side in a few years after working on his body strength. The pies loss was Footscray’s gain, who within 12 months took one of the club’s greatest punts of all.
It was if Whitten’s career was destined to be as good as it was. In 1951 he made his debut at Punt Road Oval versus Richmond and put the ball through the sticks at his very first kick – 359 would following the 19 seasons to come.
Three years later, the first of five Best and Fairest Awards came his way – in the same year Footscray defeated Melbourne in the VFL Premiership. And while the list of honours are never ending, ranging from Order of Australia Medals to the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame and inaugural AFL Hall of Fame inductee, some of his best work came post his stellar football career.
In 1995 Whitten spoke publicly about his battle with prostate cancer and spread the word travelling interstate to raise awareness for men’s health. Only weeks before his death, Whitten will long be remembered for his ‘Lap of the G’ while suffering from blindness before the State of Origin match. Accompanied by Ted Whitten Jnr. who founded the E.J. Whitten Foundation as it stands today, EJ was farewelled by 60,000 football fans and found the spirit to stir the crowd up with his famous fist in the air salute - we stuck it up em, which has now become – Stick it up Prostate Cancer.
EJ died on August 17, 1995 and 13 years on would be proud that the E.J. Whitten Foundation has raised over $8.5 million for Prostate Cancer.