In the wake of recent suspensions to Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield and Giants player Sam Reid as a result of aggressive bumps to an opposition players – causing them to potentially miss a week or more of footy due to concussion – we’ve seen people on social media making sensational such as ‘footy is dead’ or ‘footy has gone soft’.
But these statements are far from the truth.
Although in previous years, the bumps may have at worst got a week or even no suspension, but in recent times our understanding of the long term affects of concussion have increased dramatically. We now know about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain degeneration caused by repeated trauma to the head and can only be diagnosed in autopsy while studying by studying sections of the brain.
CTE has been linked to, by peer reviewed articles, to psychiatric effects such as depression, aggression and suicidal behaviour.
Only three former AFL players, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, Danny Frawley and Shane Tuck have been diagnosed with the disease with the latter two taking their own lives.
CTE has been said to have played a role in the mental illness of Shane Tuck and Danny Frawley, which makes it very important to acknowledge the risk of CTE.
It is only inevitable that there will be more players diagnosed with the disease, but we can help prevent our current generation of players from suffering from the same problems.
The AFL has already taken important steps ahead of its rival sporting code NRL by introducing protocols such as a mandatory 12 day break for players diagnosed with concussion to help players fully recover. But they have taken a more important step.
The only people who can reduce the risk of concussion without the AFL, are the players. But as there is no short term consequence other than a free kick, so the AFL has taken the initiative to crackdown on dangerous bumps by handing out more severe punishments to players who chose to intentionally or carelessly make a dangerous bump.
If the AFL is to continue to crackdown, we should see a reduction in the number of dangerous bumps and tackles be carried out. The AFL in the past has cracked down on actions such as sling tackles, jumper punches and punches to the body, and as a result, we have seen a reduction in the incidents surrounding those that occur.
But unlike those actions, bumping is a more fundamental part of the game. This can make it more difficult to crackdown on these incidents, but it is important to make players think twice about whether a bump they make is necessary, if there is potential to make significant contact to the head and if there is a better alternative.
Getting rid of dangerous bumps does not mean the game has gone soft. It is more than possible to make a good bump without making contact to the head as long as players are watching the head. Players can still attack the ball as fiercely as possible and should they use the correct technique, it is unlikely that contact to the head will be made, meaning we can still see some tough footy around the contest and a see a few big hits which will get fans out of their seat.
It is important that we acknowledge that the wellbeing, safety and lives of AFL players must be prioritised to avoid future tragedies and that life is more important than your entertainment.
Footy will continue to be a thrilling experience to watch and footy will still be ‘tough’ as long as players take more accountability when in the contest and make big bumps without getting suspended.