Sensitivity in a Tough Sport



Sensitivity in a tough sport

The sensitivity shown by NRL since the terrible accident Alex McKinnon suffered last Monday night has been exemplary. Each decision taken by the people at head office has shown great respect to that very unlucky young man and his family and many friends, both clubs’ players and officials.

I liked the way Melbourne Storm dealt sensitively in the right proportions with care and concern for the injured young Knight and with their own players involved in the tackle. Jordan McLean, Jesse and Kenny Bromwich will have had many difficult moments in processing what happened and why and some of the outpourings of people who react both appropriately and inappropriately. It all can hurt in times like this.

In almost all cases the media have responded with appropriate awareness, the tedious almost callous repetitions of replays on news and sports shows aside. In fact many of us have come to know a great deal more about this interesting young man and his family. It’s obvious now why the Knights club thought and thinks so much of him as a guy as well as a footy player.

Makes you think how many other wonderful people with their own inspiring stories there are in our sport. Wouldn’t it be nice if we got more of those from the media without waiting for a major mishap like this! All of us await a succession of days bearing good news for Alex in coming weeks and months.

The technical aspects of this tackle need specific and detailed analysis not only because of the terrible consequences here and now but also for the future of rugby league and how it is played.

I feel that this type tackle has been completed in footy in recent decades so many times it would be impossible to count; not only in the NRL but on every ground in every place our sport is played. That of course doesn’t mean that we should not examine this one and others without the same horrific outcome, so that we continue to improve player safety where it can be done.

No doubt that process will have already begun at NRL head office.

The background to many people’s opinions of what happened and why, lies in comparing the way the game was played originally to the modern era. Until the 1970’s I am not sure that the term GANG TACKLE existed but it has been a factor since that time.

The game in this period has evolved rapidly with trends and adjustments; most notably the physical dimensions of players, the rules which have given the players opportunities to display those physical qualities and the development of incredible combinations of those physical components and skills never seen before. This has all led to the fantastic, fast moving and high risk entertainment package we see every season.

To counter balance those risks the administrators have made significant player safety adjustments to the rules and regulations which has removed almost all foul play, the source of many injuries in those dark days of previous eras. As well as that lead from the authorities, clubs have developed much improved sports science and medicine regimes to ensure players are prepared so well physically to withstand these massive pressures and forces on their bodies.

Well-meaning people offering their solutions to this rare event in our sport would do well to resist the temptation to over simplify. Most of these “experts” go to the REMOVE the GANG TACKLE theory as the total solution. I feel that is naïve in most cases and ignorant in others.

Rugby Union had serious problems with scrums and neck injuries but did they decide to ban scrums?  Instead they looked into what happens in scrums, technically, and then made rule adjustments.

Has that removed serious injuries completely from RU? Of course not, nor did they reduce the number of players in the scrum which would seem an obvious alternative. This would have removed a pillar of the sports character.

Do people cry out for the banning of motor sports even when drivers and riders are seriously injured or even killed? I guess some do but not those people who love to participate and watch those sports assess what new safety measures can be introduced. They don’t make the cars go slower but do look for greater safety measures!

These serious risks are involved in skiing in both forms, skate boarding, horse riding in lots of forms, cycling and the list goes on.

The answer to our sports issues lies in continuing the process of player safety assessment and just as importantly, in recognising there is inherent risk involved in participation.

My thoughts on how we could develop an ever improving system of player welfare revolve around development of competency assessments before players can proceed to higher levels of competition as occurs in other combat sports. READ MORE HERE

May I recommend 2 differing articles on this matter?

Former Kiwi international Richie Barnet speaks from a very personal viewpoint about his own horrific injuries –

Peter Fitzsimons touches on history of serious injuries and possible causes and solutions.

And if you prefer it in a bit more dramatic style try this by SMH’s Andrew Webster.