Nat Fyfe’s decision to sit out this week’s derby has intensified the debate about the treatment of concussion at the elite level.
Fyfe was knocked out cold in a head clash with Saints youngster Josh Battle in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, and did not take any further part.
— AFL (@AFL) April 7, 2019
Professor of neurotrauma Melinda Fitzgerald said no concussion was the same, but players shouldn’t be rushed back regardless of the severity.
“It depends on where people are hit, how hard they are hit, the rotational forces involved… it’s all the biomechanics of the injury that will dictate how people will respond [to concussion],” she said.
“I think there’s an erring on the side of sending them out too early… I would err on the side of not sending them out.”
Former Hawthorn and West Coast Eagles player Xavier Ellis has suggested the AFL should bring in rules around how quickly players should be allowed to play after being concussed.
“I really do think there needs to be some sort of rule come in. If you’re out for concussion, at least you’re home for seven days or something,” Ellis said on the Hard Ball Gets AFL podcast.
Concussion expert Dr Alan Pearce believes incorporating a mandatory rest period could open the door for players to falsify their actual medical condition.
“What generally happens is if you mandate a particular time off, you find that players will try to hide their symptoms because they want to get back and play,” he said.
“What we need to do is incorporate objective testing, that way players can’t fake a molecule or brainwave form.”
Fyfe said he was confident of missing just one week and returning against GWS next weekend.
While Fyfe will sit this week out, stories of more serious cases of concussion have become all too common in the AFL over the last few years.
Just last week Western Bulldogs premiership hero Liam Picken was forced into an early retirement as a result of lingering concussion issues.
Last year the careers of Jack Frost (Collingwood and Brisbane) and Koby Stevens (West Coast, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda) were ended prematurely as a result of ongoing concussion symptoms.
Uncertainty surrounds former number one pick Paddy McCartin, with his career in doubt at the age of just 22 following a string of head knocks.
McCartin is one of a handful of players that wear helmets when out on the ground, however experts say helmets aren’t the solution.
“There’s a school of thought that helmets are unhelpful because it gives people a false sense of security,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
Pearce said: “Helmets will protect the skull from fracturing, what helmets can’t do is stop the brain inside from moving.”
While helmets in their current form aren’t doing much to prevent concussion, Professor Fitzgerald said the future of protective headgear could allow for that.
“I know some of the biomechanics and engineering people are trying to design helmets that are better at force dissipation… watch this space, there might be something that could be developed.”