Despite rule changes AFL is still a “man’s” game
An incident between the Selwood brothers has brought up debate over how "tough" AFL is (AFL/Slattery Images).
When a player like former St Kilda tagger Steven Baker criticises rule changes in the game you know the AFL must be doing something right.
In an interview with Mike Sheahan to be aired on Monday night, Baker bemoans the softening of the “man’s game”. If the kidney punches, elbows and backward headbutts dished out by Baker during his career are part of that game, than good riddance to it.
The AFL’s success in killing off thuggish acts have transformed the game for the better. The age of neanderthals strutting around looking for a soft target or seeking retribution are over. The real men now are those who run hard, tackle hard and execute skills under extreme pressure and fatigue. Pain is still an intrinsic part of the game.
The rule that making unnecessary or unreasonable contact with an injured player was a positive response to some unseemly incidents, most notably Mal Michael and Chris Scott’s treatment of Nick Riewoldt in 2005.
Joel Selwood’s reprimand under that rule for “rolling” his older brother Adam confirmed for many people the belief that the AFL has transformed the grand contact sport it governs into a nanny pursuit. I don’t agree.
Selwood’s reaction was a response to a hard bump and his response was relatively slight – hence the minimum sanction – but it still had the potential to exacerbate any serious injuries his brother may have sustained.
It was cowardly too, taking a shot at a player clearly in pain. One commentator ridiculed the decision on the grounds Adam was only winded – a fact only learned after the incident. Another mocked the possibility of an injury: “He could have hurt his neck, damaged his back…. really?”
There was also the absurd claim that because the protagonists were brothers the incident should have been ignored: “This was 24 years in the making. Brothers is one thing. You don’t need the AFL to come in” .
“Where has the theatre in football gone?”, bemoaned another correspondent. Perhaps we should put Steven Baker on him and let the show begin!
Anyone questioning the hardness of the modern game should look at the number of concussions. The speed of the game and emphasis on contested balls has seen an increase in player collisions and heads impacting the ground.
Adelaide star Kurt Tippett has had three concussions in five weeks and Geelong’s Allen Christensen has suffered five so far this season.
The players themselves are reticent to miss games despite feeling unwell. Steve Johnson was permitted to play the week after being concussed because he passed all cognitive tests. But clearly his brain wasn’t right: ” I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent, I thought, well, I’ve passed it, so I may as well get out there”.
Dr Hugh Seward, Executive Officer of the AFL Medical Officers Association would be interested in what Johnson had to say next:
“Once you get a few No-Doz in the system and those types of things and the game comes around, you really don’t think about it.”
When Sharrod Wellingham cleaned up Kade Simpson earlier in the year concern centred around the damage done to Simpson’s jaw.
OK, he had to feed himself through a straw for a month, but his real worry should have been for the brain that slapped against the inside of his skull.
If Simpson – who couldn’t perform basic motor functions immediately after sustaining the blow and was seen being dragged from the ground by medical staff, with a petrified leg – hadn’t broken his jaw, I’m sure he would have insisted on playing the following week.
These players need to read the statement made by former England international and Melbourne Rebels rugby player Michael Lipman who retired recently after insistent headaches, fatigue and loss of memory resulting from multiple concussions:
“Everyone’s getting bigger, stronger and faster, but the brain’s the brain, if you drop a computer that many times, eventually it’s not going to turn back on.”
The AFL clearly has to implement stricter regulations on concussion management as the players need to be saved from themselves. But you can’t deny their bravery, or the hardness of their game.