Front and Centre: Concussion in AFL remains a critical issue

Veteran player agent Peter Jess says concussion remains "the biggest cover up in sports history", as former AFL players Sam Blease and Matt Maguire this week won compensation payouts for career-ending head knocks.

Jess says the average AFL player could be irreversibly damaged from the common head knocks players receive every season, claiming the AFL still "has its head in the sand" when it comes to diagnosing brain injuries.

"A group of authorities like the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) have come out and said that there is no science to prove that there is any long-term damage from repetitive concussion," Jess told ESPN. "We're actually being dragged back to the dark ages. It's the biggest cover up in sports history."

The player agent claimed that: "Approximately 90 per cent of players will have functional damage after one season."

Blease and Maguire were this week awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars after their careers were cut short from successive head knocks and concussions. (Blease played 34 games for Melbourne and Geelong before having to retire in 2015 due to the effects of head knocks; Maguire played 170 games with St Kilda and Brisbane before retiring mid-way through last season.)

The pair were initially denied payouts by the AFL, but following protracted negotiations, their cases were heard and eventually resolved by the AFL's grievance tribunal.

"They've (Blease and Maguire) changed the paradigm. Whilst he [Blease] hasn't been compensated in full, he's had a significant compensation on the basis that they now recognise you can have a career ending from an accumulation of concussions," Jess told ESPN.

"They didn't have one catastrophic concussion, they had a series of sub-clinincal knocks, which meant that they weren't actually treated. Our biggest risk in the game at the moment is that we're not diagnosing sub-clinical concussion. If we're not diagnosing it, that means it's not being treated.

"Thankfully we've now recognised that accumulated head knocks can actually be career-ending."

Sling tackle penalty? Fair enough

Perhaps it's not surprising then that Jess, a long-time concussion campaigner, has applauded the AFL for its tough stance on the sling tackle.

North Melbourne's Jarrad Waite and St Kilda midfielder Koby Stevens were each handed one-week suspensions by the Match Review Panel this week for reckless tackles that injured their opponents.

Waite's heavy tackle on Adelaide's Tom Lynch concussed the Crows forward, who'll have to undergo a fitness test this week to determine if he's able to take the field.

"If someone is injured because of that, the appropriate penalty is the amount of time the injured person spends out of the game," Jess told ESPN.

Take a leaf out of FIFA's book

The AFL's latest entry into the gaming space, AFL Evolution, was launched last Friday and league officials will be hoping the game will have the same sort of effect on the AFL's popularity as the FIFA series did with soccer when it was first developed in 1993. Recognised now as a gaming phenomenon, the FIFA series did more to enhance the profile and popularity of soccer worldwide than any clever marketing campaign could ever hope to.

As any marketer will tell you, if in pro sports you haven't got a decent digital offering for teen gamers, you haven't got much going for you at all.

Which is why the AFL promoters and spruikers were so keen to develop an electronic game of their own: they felt the new generation of Australian gamers were growing up on an electronic diet of English Premier League and NBA - but not the indigenous code.

Which is how AFL Evolution came into being.

Darren Birch, the AFL's general manager of commercial operations and marketing, said the league's research indicated that 70 per cent of children between five and 16 play, or have played, video games - making it third most popular activity behind watching television and playing some form of sport.

"Video games are critical in terms of engagement," he said. "This generation has extraordinarily high expectations about their games - their authenticity and playability - so kids will pick up our sport, and be engaged in it, if we get the game right."

And that was no easy thing to do: of all elite sports, AFL would be the most difficult by far to build a game around. It is a 360-degree proposition where players can kick in any direction, run in any direction, and be tackled from any direction.

But, in spite of the enormous difficulties in transferring the jumping, marking and kicking code into a playable console game, the developers, Wicked Witch, appear to have made a good fist of it.

New Zealand not happy

Melbourne was believed to have been furious when the AFL announced Port Adelaide and Gold Coast would stage the first match for premiership points outside of Australia and New Zealand.

After pioneering an exhibition match against Brisbane in Shanghai in October 2010, the Demons considered themselves strong candidates to play a home-and-away game abroad.

But when league headquarters revealed Port Adelaide would take on Gold Coast for Saturday's historic match in Shanghai, ESPN has been told Demons figures had "stern words" with some league executives.

Seagulls causing more trouble

Seagulls have been a problem at the MCG for years.

So much so that MCC officials have employed all sorts of different methods to deter the chip-eaters from descending on the arena in giant flocks: wires on the roof, birds of prey and bird kites have all been tried.

The most successful method so far, and the one currently in use, is the sound of an eagle squawk being broadcast over the stadium sound system.

As MCC Communications Manager Shane Brown told ESPN this week: "Don't want to jinx it, but we've had a very good success rate this season to date."

Occasionally, though, someone turns the volume up too loud on the sound system - as happened last Saturday during the Carlton-Collingwood game - and patrons are left wondering if they've stumbled on to the set of a Hitchcock film.

"Normally, patrons at the event don't hear the bird squawker over the PA due to the crowd noise, but (on Saturday) it was up a little louder than we would like for a brief period before we adjusted, so that's why people heard it," Brown said.

It's a story backed up by recently retired MCC chief executive Stephen Gough who told ESPN he recently tuned on to a pre-match TV broadcast from the MCG and thought the microphone had been placed in an aviary, such was the volume of the eagle squawking.


Most disposals after seven rounds in the AFL era:

237 Tom Mitchell (Haw) 2017

235 Dane Swan (Coll) 2012

232 David Armitage (StK) 2015

232 Matthew Boyd (WB) 2012

Most handballs after seven rounds in the AFL era:

161 Clayton Oliver (Melb) 2017

148 Tom Mitchell (Haw) 2017

148 Matthew Priddis (WCE) 2015

And, as stats guru SirSwampThing notes, that means Clayton Oliver has had more handballs in seven rounds this year than Richmond legend, Kevin 'Hungry' Bartlett, had in his best two years combined.

300 games - James 'Pops' Kelly is due to become the 79th player in VFL/AFL history to reach the milestone when he steps out for Essendon at the MCG on Saturday night. Ironically, the Bombers will be up against his old club, Geelong, where he played 273 of those games.