Impacts of impact

The 2023 AFL season is off to a bumpy start as concerns over player safety and possible lifelong impacts dominate headlines.

Three separate incidents have seen Shane McAdam, Lance Franklin and Kysaiah Pickett suspended as the question remains: is the bump dead?

WAFC executive manager of game development and community football Troy Kirkham says the players have a duty of care to keep each other safe.

“The bump is not necessarily dead, but players have to know when they are crossing the line,” he says.

Mr Kirkham believes recent changes to game rules and regulations by the WAFC have reflected community sentiment regarding concussion.

“Player safety is our number one priority. We have implemented over 30 changes in rules to the protect the head as there has been a shift in outlook regarding head injuries,” says Troy Kirkham.

Former junior AFL player Liam Kerr has had to give up playing the sport he loves after suffering repeated head knocks. Photo: Noah Landau.

Liam Kerr, 20, has given up football after numerous head injuries between 2016 and 2020 and faces serious long-term consequences.

Kerr has experienced brain bleeds, stroke-like conditions and a six-month loss of long-term memory from head injuries.

He admits it is impossible to take contact out of AFL football but more can be done to ensure player safety.

“The helmets available aren’t the most protective and are ineffective in stopping major hits to the head,” he says.

Kerr believes there should be greater awareness about the recovery process after young athletes suffer head knocks.

Liam Kerr talking about how to help young athletes with head injuries. Video: Noah Landau.

“Head injuries are more common than you think and more education on detecting what’s happened is a good step forward,” says Kerr.

He believes the AFL plays a crucial role as they set the precedent of what is right and what is wrong.

Liam Kerr believes it is the AFL’s responsibility to ensure safety. Video: Noah Landau.

Curtin Wesley Tigers colts coach Matthew Rogers says it’s a difficult issue.

“The role the bump plays in community football is a shifting landscape,” he says.

“As a coach, I think you just have to teach players not to bump,” he says regarding a change in his coaching methods.

“When coaching kids under the age of 20, it is crucial to encourage tackling and to put the bump away,” says Rogers.

He believes the AFL’s response to this round’s incidents is a sign of things to come.

“It is clear the AFL is taking a strong stance on players who choose to bump, heavy sanctions were handed out for incidents which didn’t result in players being knocked out.”

Rogers is convinced the bump is no longer effective and it is being phased out due increased awareness of concussion and the pending AFL lawsuit on head trauma.

In a clear attempt to eradicate the bump, the AFL has handed down as much as a three-game suspension in the opening round of season 2023.