The future of concussion looks blurry for AFL
When Andrew Krakouer’s manager Peter Jess stated this week that there may be a connection between Krakouer’s mental health issues and head knocks suffered in his career, the AFL were the first to shun such an idea.
Collingwood president Eddie Maguire echoed the opinion of AFL chief medical officer Dr Hugh Seward, who stated that “there is definitely not a clear link between head injury and depression.”
These statements come at a time where in the US, a new concussion-related lawsuit has been filed against the NFL every week for the past ten weeks.
Currently there are 35 concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, many of them class actions involving over 700 former players.
The most notable of these involves Dave Duerson, a two-time Superbowl champion and Bachelor of Economics honours graduate.
According to the Duerson family of four children and ex-wife Alicia, Duerson’s personality changed completely in his later years, as he became extremely forgetful and violent.
In February 2011, aged 50, he committed suicide by gunshot to the heart, stating in a text message to his family that he wanted his brain to be used for medical research. In May later that year, neurologists at Boston University found that he suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.
The wrongful death suit later filed by the Duerson family claimed that the league “did not do enough to prevent or treat concussions” that severely damaged his brain.
In assessing this case in the context of our governing Australian Rules football body, it’s hard to argue that the AFL has really done enough to “prevent or treat concussions”.
As the tirade of lawsuits and new research continues in the NFL, the AFL remains stagnant and defensive, not entertaining the prospect of long-term mental health effects related to concussion.
While rules preventing AFL players from returning to the field post-concussion were introduced last year, such rules have existed for over five years in the NFL.
This rule in the AFL also exists as a means of treatment (not prevention) ensuring the brain is given time to recover before being put at risk of further injury.
The major flaw in the AFL’s current concussion policies involves a lack of preventative measures. Unlike the NFL, the AFL does not necessitate that players wear helmets. The notion of preventing concussion is swept under the rug. Ultimately, ensuring the sport retains its masculine image takes priority.
It’s an image insecurity which ironically has its roots in NFL, a classic example of Australian sporting short-man syndrome, taking pride in the fact that we don’t stoop to wearing padding and protection like American football players.
However, it’s hard to envisage upholding machismo and outdoing American counterparts as viable defences when faced with masses of concussion0related litigation.
In a game where the players are getting fitter and the hits becoming harder each year, it’s not a question of whether helmets become part of the standard AFL kit, but when.
Recent years have seen Adelaide’s Scott Stevens and Melbourne’s Daniel Bell highlight the alarming consequences that the fast-paced game have had on their mental ability and health.
Stevens retired last year, citing ongoing vision impairment and regular migraines in forcing him out of the sport, while Bell detailed the disturbing toll AFL had taken on his brain.
The AFL needs to put their egos aside and take the preventative measures to protect the welfare of players. They can either act now in the light of legal challenges and medical studies occurring in the NFL, or bear the brunt of when such an issue becomes reality at home.