Don’t knock the concussion issue on the head

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It’s official: concussion in sport is a very real and serious issue. Last week’s episode of Four Corners on the ABC exposed the dangers and ramifications of concussion, especially for those athletes who have been concussed on multiple occasions.

The revelations from Four Corners, while not completely ground-breaking, address the harsh reality confronting not only professional athletes but even for those playing sport at a grassroots level. Remember, these are people who are not getting paid to play but just taking part for the love of the game. Is it really worth putting themselves in potential danger?

A few weeks ago, Tacklegate took Melbourne and the AFL world by storm. It seemed everybody had an opinion. Melbourne Demons youngster Jack Trengove received a three week ban for a ‘sling’ tackle on Adelaide youngster Patrick Dangerfield, who was concussed as a result of the incident.

The controversial decision made way for a myriad of calls labelling the game ‘soft’. Trengove’s teammate, James Frawley sarcastically tweeted “I thought my mate played for the Melbourne Demons … not the Melbourne Vixens!”.

Such declarations do no-one any good and are simply unfounded. They do not address the wider implications surrounding the issue of concussion which is becoming an ever-present concern for all sporting codes.

The AFL’s Match Review Panel, Tribunal and Appeals Board all heard the case as the Demons attempted to overturn the decision against their player. The same result occurred every time. The three-week ban stood. The correct decision was made.

The AFL, like all sporting competitions around the world has a duty of care for the health and safety of their players. In recent years they have made a conscious decision to protect the head, making it sacrosanct.

The AFL’s new concussion laws implemented this year display the seriousness of the issue at hand.

The laws prohibit a player from coming back on the ground after being declared ‘concussed’ by their club doctor.

Some say that club doctors are being put under too much pressure when diagnosing the health and wellbeing of their players, having to weigh up the potential ramifications on the scoreboard should his side be left a man down for the rest of the match.

To date, we have seen no reason to believe that any such considerations are being made by club doctors and frankly it’s hard to believe that they would put the four points at stake ahead of the wellbeing of a player.

Sporting administrators throughout Australia need to be continually addressing the issue of concussion and the impacts it can have on players, especially after their playing careers. Andrew Demetriou and company at AFL House, along with David Gallop at the NRL and John O’Neill from Australian Rugby Union, could do a lot worse than to look to the US for guidance.

Just a few months ago former NFL player Dave Duerson committed suicide at the age of 50. His final note to loved ones requested his brain be donated to the NFL for research.

After Duerson’s brain had undergone an autopsy by Boston University researchers it was declared that the former Chicago Bears safety suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

The condition has the potential to affect an individual’s judgement, memory or mood. In the past, such concussion-related illnesses have been linked solely to boxers. It is now creeping into codes of football.

The Boston University School of Medicine has tested the brains of fifteen past players. Fourteen of them had CTE. The university has 128 brain donation commitments from NFL players to their research in the future. An increased sample will no doubt provide more credibility to the research and sample the university are examining.

Whichever way you look at it, the statistics are sobering – and let us not forget that these guys wear helmets.

America and those at NFL headquarters are way ahead of their Australian counterparts on the issue. Not learning from them could become a huge mistake for Australia’s football codes.

Many may think that this is an over-reaction to one solitary incident where a player has been concussed. It is not. Earlier in the Super Rugby season, Waratah Berrick Barnes was forced out of action for a large portion of the season following multiple concussions.

Adelaide Crow utility Scott Stevens is another who has missed a considerable amount of football this season following a concussion. Gladly he looks to be on the road to recovery.

It is not just the immediate impact on players either. The long term effects seem to be the most worrying.

So Messrs, Demetriou, Gallop and O’Neill, it’s over to you.

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