I've been thinking about something over the last couple of days, and it is something that I’ve not been able to shake from my mind. I’ve been following footy for a little over six years now, and if you listen to the podcast, I think you’ve figured out that footy has become my passion. A passion that I want to have shared with me, by supporters who’ve been fans for years and years, and a passion that I want to share with those not yet fortunate enough to discover the greatest game on the planet.
The game has changed, however, over the last few years. There have been many changes. STAND! Making strides to ensure proper calls around the goal through the use of sound and video equipment. We’ve seen rotations reduced recently, placing a greater emphasis on player fitness to stay on the ground for longer periods of time. We’ve all witnessed (not necessarily in person) all of the steps the league took in order to keep the AFL up and running over the last two years. They tried to do the same with the AFLW, but with differing success in 2020. (Sorry Fremantle. It would have been one hell of a Grand Final.) STAND!
We have seen the AFL allow the lone “Yank” in the game to don sports goggles to help protect his eyesight while he plays the game he has fallen in love with. We’ve seen greats of the game like Gazza fight through a devastating shoulder injury in what would be the final game of his career. We got to see Eddie Betts come home for one more go donning the Navy Blues. We’ve been able to witness Buddy creep ever so close to the 1000 goal zenith that no player may ever come near again. Hell, we even got to see Richmond play a home game at Marvel Stadium. Were you one of the dozens of Richmond members who made the long trek from the MCG for that clash with the Giants? I didn’t think so. Sorry, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to give Dimma a hard time.
However, the most important change that we’ve seen is with regards to player safety. Specifically with regards to head injuries. Over the last couple of years, the game has lost Geelong Captain and premiership player Polly Farmer, Shane Tuck, former Magpies Captain and premiership player Murray Weideman and Saint Kilda legend and beloved media icon Danny Frawley. All four of these men were found to have been battling Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Australian Rules Football is a contact sport, as you all know. If you’ve been following the game for longer than I have, you’ve more than likely witnessed the bumps and hip and shoulders that (as we say here in the US) “decleated” opposing players, or perhaps your own. Either way, it is the kind of action that probably got you to jump out of your seat at the MCG, or wherever you were watching the game.
Gridiron football is dealing with this very same issue, and has worked diligently from youth football through the NFL to eliminate players using their head (and helmet) as a battering ram in tackling. At the youth and school levels, they’ve begun teaching what is known as “heads up” tackling, where players use their torso to help wrap up and bring down ball carriers. It seems to be working. Players being penalized for “targeting”, using the crown of their helmets to drive into players is now banned, and if a player is found to have done that, they can be ejected from the game. A severe penalty, but a necessary one in my opinion, to help maintain player safety.
The AFL (and I’m assuming the other competitions around the country) have begun to really clamp down on any sort of contact to the head of an opponent. We saw a prime example of that during the community series when Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard was suspended for two games after contacting the head of the Giants’ Daniel Lloyd. Maynard swung his arm through to spoil a mark, and did just that. He kept Lloyd from taking the mark, but as he followed through, his arm swept through, striking Lloyd and causing him to fall and hit the ground, striking his head. This resulted in Lloyd sustaining a concussion. Yesterday, Maynard’s two game suspension was upheld by the tribunal, so he’ll miss the Magpies’ first two contests against St. Kilda and Adelaide. I guess I understand the Tribunal’s decision, and no, I’m not a Magpies apologist or anything like that. This incident got me thinking about something.
I think that it is time for the AFL to strongly consider making another change. That change? Changing the definition of “fairest” with regards to selecting the winner of the Brownlow Medal. As the definition states at the present, Any player suspended during finals or pre-season would not be considered ineligible to earn the Brownlow. Based upon my research, Toby Greene would still be eligible for the Brownlow in 2022, despite being suspended for several games at the outset.
As footy fans, we still love seeing the game played fast, aggressive and hard. With that being the case, there are still going to be incidents, likely every week, in which a player is going to be reported to the tribunal for their action. Some of those players will be suspended, and some will have their suspensions overturned. Here’s the problem with this. This IS still a fast, aggressive and hard hitting game. I don’t think that will ever change. If it does, I think it will be the death knell of the game.
I’m not hoping that this happens, but what if we find ourselves facing a season where Christian Petracca, Dustin Martin, Marcus Bontempelli, Ollie Wines and Lachie Neale all find themselves making an aggressive play on a ball to spoil a mark? They spoil the mark, but in a situation not dissimilar to that of Brayden Maynard, they find that they make contact with a player that results in that player becoming concussed. All get suspended for a game or two. The other 20 or 21 games that they play, they earn themselves the requisite votes to put them in serious contention for the Brownlow, far and away more than the 6th or 7th player on the tally sheet, who managed to not get themselves suspended in this new era of footy. Is that person REALLY the best and fairest? Should the AFL revise what “fairest” means in today’s new game? I think it is something that they should consider. I think that with the rules being tinkered with (with very good reason), the requirements for what it means to be “fairest” should catch up with the times. Perhaps a player should be limited to a single suspension-worthy incident in order to still be considered eligible for the Brownlow.
Now, I realize that this is a very unique set of scenarios that I’ve laid out here, and we might not see anything like this even occur. I was just wondering if this was something that the leadership in the AFL have even considered. If they haven’t, I believe that they should.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave me a note or a message on my website, ayankonthefooty.com. I do hope that you’ll also sign up for the mailing list while you’re there.