AFL urgently needs adjustment to concussion penalties and player punishments

Concussion was the hot topic of discussion at the start of the first round, mainly due to the development of class action legal proceedings involving disgruntled former AFL and AFLW players.

They are suing the league for allegedly breaching their duty of care. Now, the discussion appears to have grown even more as Round 2 approaches, with three separate high contact reports occurring over the past weekend.

Bumps from Kysaiah Pickett and Shane McAdam were both viciously brutal and occurred while the opposition were in possession of the ball, meaning the tackle was an option. Pickett accepted his two-week ban, which is a slap on the wrist. McAdam was sent straight to court.

The bumps were very similar but the players were punished differently due to the different results. Bailey Smith appeared to have escaped injury while Jacob Wehr struggled to get up. It’s hard to understand why the league wants to focus its punishment on damage done. It doesn’t punish players appropriately, like Pickett, who launched into a vulnerable player and instead bases the outcome on the arbitrary nature of how a player reacts to the hit.

Lance Franklin’s bump occurred while he was competing for possession with opponent Sam Collins and appeared more accidental than intentional. It’s still worth noting that Franklin has a history of high moguls, and the AFL has an incentive to keep his suspension to a minimum because of the crowd he draws.

A week seems like the correct punishment for this isolated act, however, should his poor record justify an additional financial penalty or a longer suspension?

Is Buddy Franklin treated the same as other AFL players? (Photo by Jono Searle/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Clearly, the AFL tribunal process fails to effectively punish and rehabilitate players. Last season, Patrick Cripps delivered a devastating blow to Callum Ah Chee which went unpunished. Cripps was offered a two-week ban for the hit, which he and Carlton contested during a week-long saga that culminated in Cripps eventually overturning the charge due to a technical error in law. .

It was a huge mistake on the part of the AFL to let a player go unpunished for a high kick to the head, something the industry is trying to dissuade.

It also had similarities to the bumps of Pickett and McAdam, as all three players launched into the opponent, turning their bodies into missiles. This makes the potential for injury considerably higher, as a player’s entire body mass is pushed towards the unfortunate opponent, rather than defensive action during the Franklin incident, as he prepared for contact.

In a similar contact sport, ice hockey, leaving your feet while delivering a bump or check is considered a load. When a charging check occurs to the head, the player is usually punished with a five-minute major penalty and a foul, which means they are ejected from the game, similar to a red card in football.

Patrick Cripps of the Blues celebrates his teams victory over the Final Siren in the AFL Round 2 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Carlton Blues at Marvel Stadium on March 24, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Patrick Cripps was responsible for one of the most controversial moments of 2022. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Their team must play a four-on-five scenario for five minutes, which, in theory, should put the opponent in a position to win the match solely on a penalty kick. The AFL currently has no system in place to punish players during the game, other than a free kick and a 50 yard penalty. Ah Chee and the Brisbane Lions haven’t even been awarded a free kick for the Cripps incident.

The irony of this result was that Cripps went on to win the Brownlow Medal, awarded to the best and fairest player in the entire competition. A suspended player is not eligible to win the prize. Cripps had a phenomenal 2022 and finally cemented it with a dominating individual performance against Collingwood in the final round to claim the award one vote ahead of Lachie Neale.

In a convoluted and divisive system of law that has consistently failed to punish players for their actions, we urgently need change.

Sports Grp2

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