Concussion in football: Changing attitudes breaking through at all levels

Herald Sun

Grant Mc Arthur

May 22,2016

THE cultural change towards concussion that was forced upon the AFL is now breaking through at suburban and bush leagues.

Some leagues have even begun using AFL club doctors to assess their own players after head knocks and making them sit on the sidelines until they pass the same tests as the professionals.

Having witnessed first hand the impact of concussion on AFL players, as well as the dramatic overhaul of the league over the past five years, AFL Players’ Association player relations general manager Brett Murphy said Australia’s football culture was evolving.


Melbourne University Women's Football Club players Leah Caluzzi, Alex Gittings and Emma Cearney. Picture: Alex Coppel

“Playing on after a concussion is not a sign of courage, and it is certainly not a sign of a lack of courage to not play on,” he said.

“We are seeing a much more conservative approach being taken by players and clubs, and more and more players taking longer to get back on the park, which is a good thing.”

In the United States in 2013, 4500 former NFL players received a $1 billion settlement for concussion-related brain injuries.

Faced with its own string of high-profile concussion-related retirements, as well as tests indicting issues for some past players, the AFL introduced rule changes to protect the head as well as strict concussion protocols which prevent players returning to field in the hours or weeks they are affected.


Charlie, Matt, Charlie, Hudson and Lewis wear helmets for both training and games. Picture: Stephen Harman

Despite more than seven players retiring due to concussion issues in recent years, Mr Murphy said he was not aware of any considering legal action.

The AFLPA has now joined the nation’s other major sporting codes under the banner of the Australian Athletes Alliance to further research and advocate concussion awareness across all levels of sport.

This year the Eastern Football League has turned to Sportsmed Biologic — a clinic which comprises AFL club doctors — to better protect its players from concussion.

While it and other community leagues cannot afford to have specialists at each game, any EFL players suspected of being concussed on the weekend are sent for assessment after the game.


Lachlan McKeeman umpires after retiring from VFL footy after concussion concerns. Picture: Norm Oorloff

Sydney Swans game day doctor Ruben Branson said the “rapid access concussion clinic” and monitoring required players to be assessed by the sports experts using the same guidelines as the AFL, with players prevented from returning to play until all symptoms were resolved.

“We know a lot more now than we did 10 years ago. The league is trying to prevent a situation where players return to play and they’re still symptomatic and they then get ongoing long-term symptoms,” Dr Branson said.

“As a sports doctor working in a sports medicine clinic we sometimes see players coming through who have been concussed and they return to play.

“We have had certain cases where the symptoms do not settle down and the player has returned to training too soon. I wouldn’t say it’s very frequent. But what I am more concerned with is people going under the radar so they are not presenting.”

Led by the AFL, Dr Branson said the processes were now being rolled out to educate leagues, clubs and players about the dangers of concussion and the need to assess and rest players.