Another week, another AFL concussion incident.
And this time, and not for the first time, Fremantle gun midfielder Nat Fyfe was knocked cold.
Fyfe, in the Dockers’ 21-point Round 2 win over Greater Western Sydney on Sunday night, was caught in the crossfire of head-to-head contact with Giants forward Sam Reid.
And this time – and again, not for the first time in the 2021 season – the AFL’s Match Review Officer handed down a hefty suspension to the offending party.
Hefty, by AFL MRO and Tribunal standards.
Reid copped a two-match ban handed down on Monday, one week after Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield earned a three-match siesta on the sidelines for his head-to-head bump that left Adelaide’s Jake Kelly seeing stars, rainbows, and everything else in between.
This marks another week with more lip service from AFL bodies with regard to concussions.
With the game of Australian Rules football being played faster than ever with athletes that are bigger, stronger, and better physical specimens in better physical condition than ever, high-speed impacts involving head clashes will be more than just “a thing”.
It’s as permanent as the damage left to players’ heads.
Except that the extent, that’s the great unknown.
Multi-game suspensions will not fix the problem. Collisions and accidents are going to happen – even if levels of intent may vary from one incident to the next.
And if the incidents keep happening week after week after week, as well.
The AFL finds itself in a position of advocacy. And that’s not just to issue fines and suspensions, it can use its influence to push for greater and deeper research into a wide range of head injuries, concussions, and any sort of head trauma that happens on their fields of play.
Something I addressed on this week’s edition of my “I Just Said That!” podcast, Episode 20, free on my Patreon, with regard to this repeated issue on concussions in the AFL (it’s around the 53-minute mark, if you don’t want to sit through my ramblings on politics and industrial relations)…
The league has the access of Melbourne University, Victoria University, Deakin University, RMIT and Latrobe University, as five bodies of higher education-based research facilities within close proximities to AFL House in Melbourne alone, as means to tap into to initiate the research.
Not to mention numerous testimonies from players who can speak of their experiences with head injuries. First-person accounts always complement academic research quite well.
Moreover, the AFL also possesses a duty of care – as an employer – to its players.
Those players would view that duty of care a fundamental right to provide a safe workplace – if not to prevent these incidents, then to discover and inform what the long-term impacts of such incidents are.
Undoubtedly, there will be some case examples of CTE building in some players’ brains.
Unfortunately, CTE cannot properly be confirmed or diagnosed when its victims are still alive.
And therein lies the importance of the AFL taking a stand on it. So far, they have been quite silent on the issue – an issue that isn’t going away at any rate that the actual concussions are happening.
If the AFL’s inactions on the topic of concussions and their long-lasting impact continues, they could leave themselves open to the same sort of legal history that the NFL went through, when dragging its own feet on the same pathway.
Because for every Nat Fyfe or Jake Kelly, the ongoing risk of having another player with repeated concussions and incidental head knocks, such as is feared with Geelong’s Joel Selwood, for example, may occur.
Or else you have another case like Greg “Diesel” Williams.
Or worse, and said with a heavy heart, Danny Frawley.
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