Peter Jess insists he is desperate to work with the AFL rather than against the league over concussion matters, stressing that the only people who will win out of a football head injuries class action will be lawyers.
Concussion campaigner Jess’ comments come after it emerged that Australian football legend Graham Polly Farmer’s brain was affected by the neurodegenerative disease CTE. Farmer died last year at 84, with CTE only able to be diagnosed post-mortem. The West Australian great’s case is the first known incidence of CTE being diagnosed in the brain of a former VFL/AFL player.
Concussion crisis: North Melbourne’s Ben Brown is treated for concussion during a match in 2017.Credit:AAP
“It was always going to be inevitable that we would find CTE in the AFL. It’s only of late that we’ve got the facility to harvest brains to confirm that because unfortunately the only way that you can can find out whether CTE exists or not is post-mortem. Now that people are conscious we will get more and more of this generation donating their brain and hopefully the next generation,” Jess told The Age.
He implored the league to work with him to produce the best possible outcome for players.
“I’ve consistently with the AFL and am continuing to do so because the cost to run a class action of this magnitude doesn’t make commercial sense to the past player cohort. What we’ve got to do is use the money that would have been spent in legal action to help these players.
“We know to launch a case it’s going to cost between $10-20 million for both parties and the only people who do well out of this are the lawyers.”
Jess earlier said he feared that the game will have a new generation of “Polly” Farmers if stricter protocols aren’t put in place by the league.
“The AFL’s own research said that 73 per cent of the past player cohort is suffering from some form of neurological impairment,” Jess told SEN on Thursday morning.
“When we did our testing regime, we found that in fact it could be as high as 80.
“I went to the AFL and they said, ‘Well, we’ve changed the return-to-play protocols and we think it’s safer’. And I said, ‘But you’ve ignored the science. The science says that the window of vulnerability for a player who’s had a concussion is four to six weeks. You’re going to allow them to return in seven to 14 days’.
“What I’m saying to them is the primary focus of your lens should be looking at creative ways, novel ways, of getting science to step in and stop it and prevent it and we can do that but it’s got to be funded.”
One particular case which brought into sharp focus for Jess just how serious the issue is was that of a 35-year-old affected former player being advised to undergo electroshock therapy.
“Something is wrong in our sport. That is like a sledgehammer to a walnut, but this was diagnosed by health professionals and this person underwent eight sessions of ECT under general anaesthetic,” Jess said.
“For me that’s somebody’s been watching too many movies, or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, because that’s what happens – it’s nuts, its real.
“I’m dealing with 125-130 past players. My worst cases are the younger blokes. One guy retired at 25, he’s now 27, he had 14 clinical concussions in his 56-game career so he had a concussion every four games and he kept getting sent back to play, sent back to play and his life is destroyed.”
Jess said Farmer’s case was a significant breakthrough because it showed there was a “causal relationship” between head trauma and CTE.
But Jess said he was being hampered by a lack of players’ medical records which was assisted by legislation in Victoria which allowed clubs and doctors to destroy them after a certain period of time.
Jess also had concerns for female footballers and suggested the women’s game might have to undergo changes for their own protection.
“What we found is that women are six times more likely to have a concussion than men because of their body mass and also their musculoskeletal [system], and they take longer to recover,” he said.
Jess has signed up 130 current and former players to have their brains examined posthumously to further the research into CTE.
With Jake Niall
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