The AFL is continuing to consider new ways to combat the issue of concussion through potential rule changes, as well as investigating new technologies and prevention methods.
Concussion remains a big talking point for the league in the wake of the delisting of former St Kilda number one draft pick, Paddy McCartin who has grappled with serious concussion issues for the majority of his career.
On top of this, the AFL and its clubs could be soon headed for the courts, as lawyers involved in a potential NFL-style concussion class action say over 100 former VFL/AFL footballers have signed up. However, the legal action that has been over five years in the planning has been delayed, according to lawyer Greg Griffin, who is working with the ex-players. Griffin told the Herald Sun that the reason for the delay is a lack of co-operation by several AFL clubs as well as an absence of medical records which Griffin dubbed “a disgraceful lack of documentation.”
Former star players such as John Platten, Nicky Winmar, Shaun Smith and John Barnes have been publicly linked to the class action and have spoken out about their struggles post-retirement. Struggles they claim are in-part linked to the effects of numerous concussions sustained throughout their respective careers.
Leading members of the concussion class action group such as the aforementioned Platten, Smith and Barnes are calling for a mandatory period of one week – or more – recovery if a player is concussed. This would have a sizeable impact considering that, based on the AFL’s figures, 80 per cent of concussed players take the field the following week. However, the AFL are contemplating this course of action.
Currently, AFL players are not permitted to return to the game if they suffer a concussion during the match, with fines being handed out if this protocol is breached. Most significantly, the AFL fined Port Adelaide $20,000 for failing to follow its concussion rules by bringing defender Hamish Hartlett back onto the ground after just five minutes following a head knock back during a game in 2016, that was not adequately assessed. Hartlett said he was “seeing stars” during a half-time interview.
But are stricter rules the way to go or will this only result in more transgressions?
Unfortunately, manipulation of concussion regulations is still present in the AFL to a certain degree, at least. Delisted Saint Paddy McCartin admitted in a recent radio interview that he purposely manipulated his pre-season baseline test to ensure it was at a lower level, in order to avoid missing games with concussion. McCartin’s comments on SEN have since sparked an AFL investigation;
“The AFL’s done a good job in improving testing, but some of the stuff we do earlier in the season, baseline testing, these computer things and stuff like that, you can bludge your way through if you want to.
“And I’ve done this before as well, because I’ve had so many concussions, and especially early in my career, I was sort of worried about missing games, because I was worried about what people will think and all that sort of crap.”
If the cost of missing games with concussion became an automatic week off, would players be more desperate to hide their concussion?
How about in preliminary final week?
With the greater cost of the potential serious health risks becoming more well-known, you certainly would hope not.
The other rule change, that may be introduced as soon as 2021 in conjunction with a one-week mandatory rest period, is the implementation of a concussion substitute. Under one model, the interchange would be stripped back to three plus an additional substitute, per the old ‘sub rule’. But the substitute would only be able to enter the field if they were replacing a concussed player, but not any other type of injured player. The player may also come on if a player is being assessed for concussion.
While this rule is good in its intention of attempting to eliminate any reluctance from the clubs to remove a concussed player from the game, per the AFL rules – it does have its problems. Firstly, with less interchange players, if a second player from one team is concussed, they are disadvantaged further, as there are less players left to replace them. Moreover, the rule is also open to manipulation by teams, as poor as that would be. A team could theoretically fake an unnecessary concussion assessment in order to get some fresh legs at a crucial stage of the game.
Along with potential rule changes, the AFL is also investigating the use of helmets and their effectiveness in preventing or easing the effects of concussion. Helmets are worn by very few AFL footballers but among those who do are the Bulldogs’ Caleb Daniel and Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw. The AFL has also been looking into the use of smart mouthguards that can be used to diagnose concussions as they happen. Smart mouthguards have been trialed by clubs in the NRL.
The issue of concussion in our sport is not going away. Over the next 12 months, you will see it rear its ugly head time and time again. What will it mean for Aussie Rules, and indeed contact sports in general going forward?