Hard hits bring an end

What does an AFL player go through when diagnosed with concussion? Jordan Janssen explores the impact of the common contact sport injury and the class action involving former AFL players injured on the job.

AFL is a contact sport, so it’s expected that there are going to be injuries. Unlike a typical hamstring injury, which may have a three-to-four-week recovery period, concussion can be unpredictable. The recovery time varies depending on severity; which can also vary from person to person.

So, what does a player experience when diagnosed with concussion?

After the recent retirement of Western Bulldog premiership player Liam Picken, due to ongoing concussion symptoms, the discussion about player welfare in relation to concussion is an ongoing issue.

According to associate professor at La Trobe University’s School of Allied Health and neurophysiologist Dr Alan Pearce: “concussion is generally a short-term injury, but in some cases, symptoms are experienced long-term.”

“Most players will recover [from concussion] within 10-14 days, there are a small but notable population that have ongoing symptoms for longer than that. In one percent of cases, symptoms can linger for over three months. When this occurs, it is known as persistent post-concussion symptoms,” he tells Rabelais.

Dr Pearce explains that there are no preventative measures that can help eliminate the effects of concussion and the lingering symptoms.

“The only option we have at present is to manage players with suspected concussion and ensure they are fully rehabilitated prior to returning to training and competition,” he says.

Dr Pearce says a mandatory ruling out of players diagnosed with concussion is unlikely to be effective and could discourage players from seeking much needed medical attention.

“Many players will try and hide their symptoms as much as possible. Many players are not concerned about the potential long-term consequences because that may be 40 years away (and the grand final is next week),” he says.

Pearce says that research shows concussion injuries are under-reported by a factor of six to ten times, and that the true incidence of concussion injuries is unknown.

“The reasons for this are that players are fearful of missing out on games, or even still in this day, are concerned that their injury is seen as ‘weak’ by team-mates or coaches,” he says.

Leading concussion campaigner and player manager, Peter Jess, is leading a class action involving over 100 former players against the AFL for cognitive issues that they believe stem from on-field concussions.

Players involved in the class action include former Geelong Cats and Essendon Bombers ruckman John Barnes. Also lending a hand is Brownlow medalist and three-time premiership player for Hawthorn John Platten, and the high-flying Shaun Smith.

They have been diagnosed with issues such as epilepsy (Barnes), acute memory loss (Platten) and painful mood swings, anxiety and depression (Smith).

Mr Jess tells Rabelais that while the players are “willing to participate in legal action to be properly compensated for their injuries, it is the last thing they or I want to do”.

“We want to work collaboratively to ensure justice for the players is achieved and the ongoing safety of the current cohort of players.”

Over the last five years, ten AFL players (including Picken) have retired because of concussion symptoms due to repetitive head knocks.

Picken joins Jack Fitzpatrick, Koby Stevens, Jack Frost and many more to retire due to concussion symptoms and complications.

There are still players currently in the league which are struggling with concussion symptoms.

Recently, St Kilda Saints forward Patrick “Paddy” McCartin is believed to have been concussed eight times since being drafted in 2014.

McCartin, 23, continues to battle the effects of his most recent bout of concussion which occurred during his team match in the AFL’s 2019 JLT Community series (pre-season competition).

He appeared on Triple M’s The Sunday Rub to discuss his struggles.

McCartin said that the concussion has changed him as a person, and he has found himself unable to do “the simple things”.

“I’ve sort of lost my footy identity a little bit, but then also my identity as a person as well.

“I can’t do stuff – I can’t go to the supermarket when it’s busy or go to a café with my girlfriend or drive my car.

“I’m a shell of [the] person that I was really,” McCartin told The Sunday Rub.

McCartin also said that he is struggling with the symptoms of repetitive concussions.

“It’s been a tough few months,” he says.

“I have real light [and] sound sensitivity, get really bad headaches which are common symptoms with concussion but generally wear off by now,”

McCartin reveals that he finds it difficult to sleep due to the headaches.

St Kilda football boss Simon Lethlean told saints.com.au, that the club’s focus is on McCartin’s health and wellbeing.

“Our focus first and foremost is on Paddy’s health and wellbeing and ensuring that he becomes symptom-free,”

The club has put him on their long-term injury list to allow him to take his time with his recovery.

McCartin recently travelled to Chicago as part of his treatment.

He will visit the Neurologic Wellness Institute to consult with experts.