AFL should take head injuries more seriously

If the AFL truly believes its old adage of “the head is sacrosanct”, then it should get on the front foot on concussion research over its long-term effects.

In the weekend event of its Match Review Officer referring the case of Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield straight to the Tribunal without Dangerfield being given the normal option of lesser penalty with an early plea, as the biggest potential case coming out of Round 1, the AFL by extension sanctioned the belief that sickening head blows like what Dangerfield’s opponent Jake Kelly require immediate judgements.

And even from Round 1, the league is laying down the law that head injuries will be taken more seriously than ever, whether it represents the increasing rate of concussions or other head knocks that aren’t as serious.

Should Dangerfield get more than just a week’s ban, the volume should be pumped up to put more pressure on the AFL to take a greater and more active role in research and influencing advanced medical policies on what to do in the way of concussion and post-concussion treatments.

And that’s from medical experts (hello, Dr Norman Swan at the ABC), medical advocates (Greg Hunt, at Australia’s government level), and fans alike – they are bound to make their voices heard.

This is not just a football issue – this is a lot more serious than the ages-old fans’ refrain of “they’re trying to outlaw ‘the bump’!” – it is an issue of player welfare.

And if it’s a player welfare issue, ultimately and inevitably it will become a personal welfare issue, well into the days of a player’s retirement.

Last week, in my weekly Geelong/AFL feature, in writing about Joel Selwood, I made mention of the three actual concussions he has suffered in his previous 14 seasons of AFL football.

Note I said actual concussions.

Without going as far as what Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson alleged about Selwood perhaps having had, in his view, “as many as ten concussions over the years”, those three concussions only lie among numerous other knocks to the head, incidental contact to his head in contested footy battles, and other such incidents involving his head.

Those can potentially have repercussions, collectively, later in Selwood’s life. In fact, I have heard many Geelong fans – my own wife included – saying that they worry for Selwood and his quality of life after football. The real fear exists in that the ultimate extent is not known.

It took a good deal of time before the NFL – another sporting code with head contact, collisions and accidents being part and parcel of its game – took the matter of concussions and their long-lasting effects seriously to spur on research and policy developments in those areas.

Sure, it took the deaths of some legendary players – or in the cases of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, suicides linked to CTE – and some legal cases to force the NFL to get more involved in those research and development areas, but the fact is that it is happening.

And the “what happens next” element of R&D is just as real nowadays as head injuries in sport itself.

If Dangerfield does get rubbed out for more than a week – say, for as little as two or three weeks – then that’s a perfect opportunity for sporting bodies such as the AFL and NRL to get serious about producing proactive policies in that regard.

Even if Dangerfield escapes with just a fine, applying that money towards medical research in the area of long-term head injuries and their impact would be a step in the right direction.

- Instagram, @inside_feedhq


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