In October 2009, journalist Jeanne Marie Laskas published a story titled “Game Brain”. The title was seemingly innocent, but within the expose Laskas presented damning evidence on the NFL’s treatment of concussions and how the work of one Dr. Bennet Omalu shed light on the long-term effects of concussion. What Dr. Omalu found was that sustained head trauma can lead to dementia and for many players, when such issues presented in their retirement, they were left to face the consequences alone.
In the years that have elapsed since Laskas’ groundbreaking story, athletes around the world have woken up to the impact of trauma experienced in sport on their health. From rugby union to the NFL, sporting codes have been quick to amend their stance on the management of concussion but even so, there remains a lot to be desired in terms of recognising the severity of such trauma and supporting players in their treatment of head injuries.
Now, in what could be a watershed moment for the AFL, the sport is considering a proposal for the establishment of a multimillion-dollar fund to assist past, present and future players suffering from the long-term effects of concussion.
According to reports by The Guardian, it’s believed the governing body has been presented with a blueprint for the creation of a landmark trust that would “represent a turning point in the way collision-based sports all over the world tackle head trauma.”
The proposal includes a $2 billion trust for the players’ benefit, of which the AFL would pay a minimum of $25 million a year over a period of 80 years. This trust would cover medical and rehabilitation costs, neurological support, as well as costs associated with independent or support living and income support, as well as compensation for permanent damage as assessed by appropriate independent neurological experts.
Currently, discussions are only in their preliminary stage with parties involved yet to achieve a desired outcome. The proposal marks a significant moment, particularly for Australian sport. It also draws comparisons to the scheme implemented by America’s NFL whereby a concussion settlement involving thousands of lawsuits filed by former players was inflated to over $1 billion USD. Should the AFL proposal go ahead, the code would avoid a class action by a large group of ex-players, that include the likes of John Barnes, John Platten and Jack Frost.
As neurophysiologist Dr Alan Pearce – Australia’s most authoritative concussion expert – explained to The Guardian, any implementation of the proposal would be “a significant step forward.”
Dr Pearce told the publication, “Partly to acknowledge that concussion is a brain injury and the fact that repeated head trauma is an issue we need to accept – that these sports do carry some risk,” adding, “If that proposal came through it would be good recognition that this is something we need to be addressing, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist or downplaying its significance. It would also certainly advance the science of concussions, both short and long term.”