Another round of footy; another round of serious head injuries.
For a sport with a reputation of being dangerous, there could be little worse than the spate of injuries across the AFL so far this year.
I believe it will get worse, though, because too many influential people are completely okay with it. David Mackay’s bump on Hunter Clark in Round 13 presents a perfect example of this attitude. Here are a few points to consider.
1. Mackay was running at full, unchecked speed. The definition of reckless is to act without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action. It doesn’t matter if he was going for the ball or the bump, Mackay entered the contest at a tremendous speed, with no hope of pulling up or avoiding a very heavy collision.
That is simply not okay, and anyone who defends it needs to think more about it.
2. Mackay should be charged with high contact. Watch the vision. Mackay’s shoulder strikes Clark’s head. There should be no debate about whether this was high contact, because Mackay did not possess the ball.
It is baffling that the AFL did not charge Mackay immediately, and their statement that the incident wasn’t covered by the current rules is puzzling and weak.
3. This was no accident. Kane Cornes and others who talk about “accidental” contact being removed from the game are wrong in this case. Mackay was fully intent on crashing into his opponent, his insignificant turn at the moment of impact being nothing more than an involuntary reaction.
Mackay had a choice, as all players do in these situations. He may have nurtured a small hope of “getting there first” early on, but from about five meters out, his run was purposeful and he knew a huge crash was coming.
4. “Getting there first” is not enough. Whenever the ball is not in a player’s possession, all players around the ball have a duty to consider the safety of others. One commentator noted both Mackay and Clark had a hand on the ball “a split second” before the crash.
So what? Why is it illegal to kick the ball off the ground when another player’s hands or head are right by it? What if my foot got to the ball a split second before your hand? If you don’t want your head kicked, don’t put it down by the ball, right? Of course not.
It’s dangerous, just as crashing recklessly through the ball is. If you don’t get to the ball early enough to take possession, the onus is on you to keep yourself in check.
5. “Football Action” is not an excuse. I am really sick of hearing the phrase “football action” used to excuse dangerous play. Yes, rough contact, especially in trying to possess the ball, is a part of the sport. Bodies are going to hit each other. But those collisions don’t need to be reckless or at speeds so great that jaws are broken and skulls cracked.
There are great examples, even in recent weeks, of completely acceptable tackles and crashes that resulted in an injury. This is not one of them, though, and the distinction between reasonable and reckless needs to be made, especially amongst football actions.
6. We don’t want this in the game. We’re hearing commentators say Mackay “had no choice” and it was “a fair crack at the ball.” Cornes asks, “How far do we go in eradicating things we love about this game?” Really? You love players having broken jaws? That is just nonsense. No one teaches youth players to do what Mackay did. It’s neither safe nor skilful.
A sport can be rough and risky, without being stupid and senseless. With no change in direction and culture, fans and players will walk away from this beautiful game. The beautiful will be overcome by the ugly.
If we want to keep this sport alive and grow it, we need players to think about the fine line between gutsy and reckless. It’s time for the cultural leaders of the football community to acknowledge that reckless play is harming players and the sport itself.