Concussion felt at all levels

A suburban community football club in Perth says it’s lost six players in recent years due to ongoing concussion problems.

Glen Burton is the vice president of the Carlisle Cougars, based south of Burswood.

He says six players, some aged as young as 26, were forced to leave the sport as they continued to battle the lasting affects of concussion.

Carlisle Cougars have seen a number of their players forced into retirement because of issues stemming from concussion. Photo: Ben Chapman.

This comes as the AFL was hit with a concussion lawsuit lodged by several ex-AFL players who sustained “serious damage” from concussions throughout their careers.

The class action laid against the AFL is about the management of concussions during the time at their respective clubs.

More than 60 former players are seeking financial compensation from the AFL, led by ex-Geelong player Max Cooke who claims to have suffered “permanent, life altering injuries … due to the negligence of the AFL”.

Mr Burton says head trauma issues are prevalent not only at the professional level, but also within the community football leagues.

“It’s just something we’ve got to deal with now. We’re a lot more educated as football clubs about the problem and we have things we go through with the boys trying to educate them,” he says.

The Carlisle Cougars has a system in place which requires medical clearance in order to return to the field.

Glen Burton says his local team, the Carlisle Cougars, know how to manage concussions. Photo: Ben Chapman.

Dr Sarah Hellewell, a senior research fellow in Neurotrauma at Curtin University, says the AFL “had it coming” regarding the class action after other sporting codes such as the NFL had similar lawsuits in previous years.

“It’s probably a good thing, because the AFL has been skirting on the edge of what’s appropriate with regard to sending players back onto the field,” she says. 

Players involved in the current class action claim they were being allowed to play despite voicing their concern over concussion symptoms, and are seeking compensation for economic loss, pain and suffering, and medical expenses.

Listen to more from Dr Sarah Hellewell.

Dr Hellewell says the AFL needs to continue to invest in research and education surrounding the affects felt decades on as a result of cumulative concussion.

“People have a concussion, and they’ll have some acute symptoms but it’ll be years or decades later when they really start to see the effects of cumulative concussion.”

Dr Sarah Hellewell

The AFL has agreed to invest $25 million into study on the long-term effects of concussion, as well as a senate enquiry into head trauma in contact sports.

Locally, the Western Australian Football Commission plans to go above and beyond AFL standards, according to Troy Kirkham the executive manager of Youth, Community & Game Development at the Commission.

He says there are plans to implement new instrumental mouth-guards that measures the acceleration of the head, and will help to diagnose and treat concussion.

He says these mouth-guards will be trialled at both WAFL level as well as community football leagues.

“These mouth-guards have a triaxial accelerometer in it, which basically measures all forces within the body during a game of footy,” he says.

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