Does AFL Have Concussion?

Concussion has become a major talking point in sporting his circles.

The movie “Concussion” is a raw and glaring example of the ramifications from regular and ongoing brain-rattling collisions.

The difficulty – as expressed in the movie – is the dilemma between the moral stance and “guardian” responsibility to protect sporting participants AND the basic fundamentals of collision sports that are founded on pain, hurt, maim and minimise. It’s this gladiator type phenomenon that excites fans. We are seeing it in mixed martial arts fighting which has taken off at extraordinary levels. Fans love to see physical contact, tests of strength, violent collisions.

Unfortunately the fans are not there to see the aftermath, the pain, the suffering, the debilitation of faculties. Similar to the gladiator model, the warriors and the beasts are dragged out of the colosseum, thrown in the bin (colloquially) and replaced by the next throng.

Under no circumstances do I condone deliberate or unneccesary brain-rattling collisions. For the record I’m against MMA fighting and the implications within society. I’m also very much for outlawing head high hits along with severe punishment for punches, elbows etc to the head. They have no place in any sport in my opinion. However I want sport to be dangerous and on the edge where a participant has to make a split-second decision about risk and reward. Do I win that ball and possibly get hurt or do I pause for a nano-second and avoid the collision? This is what has made our game the best game on the planet. The contact (sadly over-umpired), the collisions (sadly avoided), the bumps (sadly gone), the bone crunching tackles (sadly minimised).

When one looks to the causes rather than the effects of an incident one ponders why players are getting knocked out or having their brains rattled from tackles. 

I have a theory…………….

The action in a slinging tackle has been around for 100 years. The desire to hurt an opponent in a tackle has been and will continue to be the driving motivation to perform a great tackle. Of course no player wants to see another hurt but it’s that primitive mentality that allows you to attack the contest and achieve the best result.

Now here’s the rub. The player with the footy understands the intentions of the tackler and either as soon as he makes contact or a nano-second before he releases the footy to protect himself and put the ball to:

  1. A teammate
  2. A contested situation
  3. An opponent

By doing this he had his arms free to protect himself.

At least that was up until coaches decided to change tack.

Coaches now insist the player with the ball accepts the tackle and does his best to retain the footy (which in 9/10 cases he does) and create a stoppage or ball up. From here the game stops and can be restructured and reorganized to start again rather than point 2 or point 3 occurring.

If a player releases the ball and point 2 or 3 occur he will receive a tongue-lashing in front of his peers at the game review meeting the following day.

The mentality is firmly entrenched in the minds of the robots; when tackled, brace, hold on to ball, cause a ball up, start again.

Unfortunately tacklers go that little bit further to entice a release and sling the player. The reasons are twofold; accentuate to the umpire that he has not released the footy so it’s holding the ball or make the footy pop out in tackle.

The flow on effect from this is the player with the footy does not have his arms free to cushion his fall. His hands, his forearm, his elbow or his shoulder is all rendered useless because he has allowed himself to be pinned up like a mummy to entice the umpire to call ball up.

So what does the AFL do? Instead of dealing with the causes and insisting on players to release the footy, they deal with the effects and reduce the intensity and ferocity of tackles. From a fan or spectator point of view this is detracting from the spectacle.

In days gone by there have been countless slinging actions by tacklers however the ball would have been released earlier in the tackle and the umpire would pay a free kick for holding the man or alternatively the player tackled would use his arms to cushion his fall and avoid his head slamming in to the ground.

Instructions to umpires have changed as well, so their interpretation – whilst wide and varied – contributes to the situation.

A player needs only a split second to release the footy however the AFL or umpires seem to be under some sort of time warp or spell where they allow the player with the ball an inordinate amount of time to release the ball. THERE IS NOWHERE IN THE RULES THAT STIPULATES A PLAYER MUST BE GIVEN ENOUGH TIME TO FIND A TEAMMATE BEFORE HE RELEASES THE BALL. 

I watched Courtenay Demsey lay a perfect tackle on Andrew Gaff recently. He was penalised for the action. Gaff clearly looks for a teammate but is surrounded by Essendon players. He does what he has been instructed to do – hold on to the footy and create a ball up. 

There is the problem.

Here is the solution:

  1. Consistency in split second time for player to release the footy irrespective if he is on his own during last 2 minutes of a tight game, in D50 goal square surrounded by opponents – circumstances and stage of game is irrelevant. If player doesn’t release footy pay a free kick to tackler.
  2. If ball is knocked out in tackle it’s called play on like the previous 100 years and not morphed into a free kick to the tackler as is the case today.

Apart from applying the rules as they were meant to be and have been interpreted for 100 years (albeit not in the last decade) this will counteract coaches manipulating the game with insurmountable stoppages that detract from the game as a spectacle.

The AFL is trying to appease community concerns around head injuries which is honorable however they have not dealt with the causes and are simply trying to appease society which is dramatically affecting the appeal of the game.

Ben Cousins Needs AFL

Does the AFL have any responsibility to the welfare of Ben Cousins?

Legally no.

Contractually no.

Morally?

Ethically?

When an organization positions itself as the lighthouse of social and community issues one gets a tad confused with the AFL’s actions relating to Ben Cousins.

From terminal illnesses to bullying, from racism to violence against women and finally the world leader in the fight against drugs in sport, the AFL certainly talk the talk but do they walk the walk?

Their ulterior motive seems to be much more about brand protection than association and taking responsibility. Somewhat of an all care and no responsibility culture. That is; if we can protect or promote our brand we will be front and centre at the press conference however if there is potential for damage – count us out.

My view is the AFL are duty bound morally and ethically to be up to their ears in situations such as the one confronting Ben Cousins. Either that or stop trying to be the savior for society’s problems. You are either in and fully invested or you are a football competition that does not align itself to government and society problems.

This is where the dilemma sits. Personally I struggle to have sympathy for people making poor choices. Understanding consequences for actions is something that we were taught whilst growing up.

I understand that a few people may get some sort of adrenalin rush and have a wow of a time when using a social drug. However when the dust settles and the clear light of day arrives surely the guilt and embarrassment is enough to help them make different choices next time. Most people “try” something once however their values and upbringing helps them to make smart decisions relating to ongoing use. I also understand – to some degree – the mental issues and “wiring” problems that some people have that makes these choices much more difficult.

Nobody will convince me that West Coast Eagles players, officials or related media did not know about the shenanigans during the volatile period. Most people outside the WCE associated with the game knew something was happening. It was unavoidable. Rampant use comes to mind. It is inconceivable for the officials at the Eagles to plead ignorance.

It’s time the AFL exerted it’s massive influence, rolled up their sleeves and fully committed to a guy that has exhausted every other avenue of help available to him.

Loss of life, loss of family and friends, addiction, mental conditions, lies and deception. It’s a tragic situation and there is grave concerns around the next headline on Ben Cousins.

Seems the AFL are still pondering if it’s really their problem or someone else’s? Or is it really about the brand damage?