War brewing over AFL’s concussion protocol

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Veteran player agent Peter Jess has slammed the AFL’s tightened stance on concussion, saying it hasn’t fixed a “flawed system” and declaring the game unsafe.

But the AFL has vigorously defended its position, stating they are world leaders in dealing with head injuries.



As revealed in The Age on Wednesday, league officials have written to clubs stating players will need to complete and pass a concussion test a full five days before playing again, or risk being fined.

Club sources have since confirmed the new protocol will make it a near-certainty that players who are concussed in a game will miss the next week.

But the increased conservatism from the AFL has not pleased Jess, who is planning a class-action concussion law suit against the AFL.

While there are many examples of past players who have aired their public battles with concussion, such as Shaun Smith and John Barnes, several careers have been cut short in recent years, including those of Sam Frost, Jack Fitzpatrick and Koby Stevens.

Frost had 14 clinical concussions in just 56 games at the highest level.

Jess, who contacted The Age after reading about the changes, says the game remains unsafe.

“My strong view is that if we have a flawed system, if you tinker with a flawed system it doesn’t address the issue.”

Jess references the research of American physician Dr Lester Mayers, who claims the “vulnerability window” to athletes from concussion was at least four weeks.

Under the new system, a player must have had no symptoms for 24 hours before a SCAT test can be conducted.

If the club doctor is satisfied with the results of the test, the player can play in the next match as long as there is a minimum window of five full days before the next game.

But Mayers’ research suggests even when a player is asymptomatic, the danger exists for another 30 days.

“There is no medical evidence to support the AFL’s proposition and somehow they’re wearing that as a badge of honour,” Jess told The Age.

“This is about brand management; it’s not about safety and welfare of the players.

“Our game is intrinsically violent … and currently it’s absolutely not safe.”

The AFL – which have never had a concussion law suit brought against them – have vehemently denied Jess’ assertions, reiterating their commitment to the safety of players.

“The changes to the concussion guidelines for the 2020 AFL and AFLW seasons reflect our ongoing conservative approach in managing concussions at the elite level,” AFL number two and chief legal counsel Andrew Dillon told The Age.

“The health and safety of all players is paramount and in recent years we have strengthened match-day protocols, changed the laws of the game to further discourage high contact, improved the identification of potential concussive incidents through video, and we continue to invest in research to better understand concussion at all levels of the game.”

Documents obtained by The Age reveal the league has made rule changes on nine occasions since 2000, specifically to deter players making head-high contact.

In 2006 the AFL introduced a “concussion management position statement” and has revised those guidelines six times since.

Concussion settlement payouts in the National Football League in the United States have already passed $US 500 million ($747 million), after thousands of law suits were enacted claiming the NFL deliberately hid what it knew about the risks of repeated concussion.

But senior sources at the AFL have told The Age the tightened protocols will not only reduce the impact of concussion, but it will help to safeguard the league against future legal action.

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