Collision Course: AFL’s battle of life and death


THE AFL is amidst a battle that it must not lose, even if it means losing the support of players and fans.

The Jack Viney decision this week polarised a sporting community. Well, maybe not polarised, because the majority were clearly against the tribunal ruling of a ban.

There was little Viney could do and I acknowledge it is an unfortunate position for the player, but the reaction to the tribunal’s stance and subsequent overturning of the two-week ban was too focused on the individual incident, not what is truly at stake, and brought to the surface a dangerous sentiment that has been bubbling in the background for some time.

We must not let that blur our focus on why the AFL is taking the stance against contact that it is.

I’ve heard it argued that “our game”, as we know it, is dying. It’s becoming soft and no longer resembles the game we’ve known for a century.

That’s correct. And it’s for good reason, because if we continue with the game we’ve known for a century, it will be our players, our sons and fathers, who die; not the game.

For those who don’t understand the consequences of heavy contact sports and for those who celebrate the collisions of two men with off-the-cuff plaudits of “gutsy play” and “real footy”, I suggest you familiarise yourself with the outstanding documentary and feature piece, “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer” by the New York Times [CLICK HERE].

Don’t click on that link if you only have only 5min free, because it’s important to watch and read it all. Especially if you are one of those people who believes AFL football is heading down the wrong path.

Just today, I read a piece in the paper celebrating the “raw” and “real” nature of country football. It claimed that the paper went in search “for WA’s football soul” and found it in country football.

I don’t believe propagating a stance like that holds any positives at all.

Country football is rough and ready. There is no doubt about that and the spectators enjoy it, because it’s what they’ve enjoyed for generations.

However, to take enjoyment as a testament to what is right is a very ignorant and immature stance. It is a celebration of a primal battle that can no longer be considered safe or correct.

Those rallying against the new-look AFL football and its contact laws usually fail to look beyond each game, or a season at most, thinking the effects of concussions – and even simple contact – stop there.

It is remarkable the lack of long-term studies into the effects of collision sports, but the piece by the NY Times into NHL “enforcer” (read: fighter) Derek Boogaard is a step forward because when this life tragically ended at just 28-years-old, autopsy reports revealed the advanced stages of dementia usually found only in brains twice that age.

Think about that. Twenty-eight-years-old. Advanced dementia.

Boogaard’s case is not unique either. Further studies of NHL and NFL players have shown identical signs.

Australia is far younger than America and in the past has taken longer to adopt practises, but as the US takes steps forward to acknowledge this issue, we must learn from their lessons and take the same steps in similar haste.

Those who disagree need a dose of reality.

The players will never take a backwards step, because for centuries we’ve celebrated that contact and we continue to praise them for their “courage”.

However, like a parent who must intervene to teach a child the difference between what they enjoy and what is good for them, the AFL must continue to work towards a game of more skill and less contact.

It cannot take a backwards step or lose focus of what is right.

Unlike the short-sighted who rally for more contact, people’s lives depend on them.

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