The AFL has strengthened its policies and education, including introducing a medical substitute last season, but recent incidents have enraged Jess, who is at the front of a potential class action should the league not introduce a brain trauma compensation fund.
“Tom Stewart showed his fellow professional footballer no respect in the nature and extent of the hit,” Jess said.
“You can be sorry after the event, but we don’t know what the long-term damage will be for Dion. The collision at that velocity is like a minor car crash. It doesn’t kill you, but it hurts you in the long term. We are pretending to make the game safe. It is simply not safe.”
Stewart’s bump was classified by the match review officer as careless (but not intentional) conduct, severe impact and high contact and was sent directly to the court, meaning he faces a minimum three-match ban. But the Cats may argue it was high – not severe – impact, which under the league’s guidelines is a two-match suspension.
“We will not last as a code if this action is not stamped out,” Jess said.
Dual North Melbourne premiership player David King said excuses had too often been made for the offending player, and the court needed to make a statement with Stewart.
“The line-ball ones have favored the player who has laid the bump over the past three years. You [AFL] have taken us to this situation. Enough is enough. Either take a stand or get rid of the whole stance against head trauma. Once and for all. It’s been absolute crap to this point,” King told Fox Footy.
“What about Dion Prestia who is relying on the game to protect his safety?”
Collingwood great Nathan Buckley said a four-match ban was required.
“I think three is the minimum and I think it’s likely to be three or four depending on how it comes down given the submissions of Geelong and Richmond,” Buckley said on SEN.
Leading neurophysiologist Dr Alan Pearce, a researcher on concussion and the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), said dangerous tackles needed a higher grading if sports were serious about athlete health and safety.
Saints chief confident Ratten is their man
St Kilda are pushing ahead with talks for a contract extension for coach Brett Ratten and chief operating officer Simon Lethlean is confident in Ratten’s ability to carry the struggling team forward next year.
Ratten comes out of contract at the end of the season.
“We’ve taken our time with that process. We’ve been consistent I think in saying that, for where we’re at now with our program and our list, that we think ‘Ratts’ is our man.”
Lethlean said the Saints’ current poor form did not factor heavily into talks around the new contract, saying he would still engage in talks with Ratten but expected to remain relatively consistent regardless of their performance on the field.
“I doubt anyone would’ve challenged us on that a fortnight ago. Clearly that’s a debate that can now happen on the back of our form,” Lethlean said on SEN on Monday.
“But what I will say is we aren’t as reactive internally perhaps as the external footy world is, and we’ll keep progressing down the path that we said we will with Brett and his management.”
The team’s captain, Jack Steele, also expressed hope for Ratten’s return in 2023, saying the players needed to improve their form and support him as much as possible during this transition period.
“I’d love to have him on as a coach. We love Ratts, we love what he’s doing. We probably haven’t helped him out too much in that space. We’ve got to do him a bit of justice,” Steele said on Sunday.
The Saints have struggled since their mid-season bye, most recently facing a devastating loss to Sydney at the SCG on Saturday. Since losing three consecutive games, the team has dropped from fourth in the ladder down to 10th.
Lethlean also confirmed comments made by coach Ratten last week, when he said the Saints were considering Collingwood’s Jordan De Goey as a trade target alongside several other free agents.
“At this time of year, I think the process for all clubs is to assess all free agents and out-of-contract players, and we’re certainly doing that below the suitability and availability of players, and Jordan is one of those, Lethlean said.
AFL announces record crowds in round 15
Round 15 marks the third-highest attendance so far this season, with a trio of matches breaking crowd records in games between the competing teams.
The Demons v Lions game topped the charts on Thursday night as 37,728 fans flocked to the MCG, becoming the largest crowd ever to watch Melbourne go head-to-head with Brisbane. A record number of supporters also braved the cold to watch Carlton host Fremantle and Geelong host Richmond, with 35,441 and 59,335 fans respectively.
So far, round one and round three boast the largest crowds, but increasing numbers at this point in the season brings it the hope that footy fans are recovering from a ‘COVID-19 hangover’ and returning to the grounds to support their teams in person.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said these numbers were a testament to the unbreakable loyalty of footy fans.
“To the 3.9 million fans who have attended an AFL match so far this season – thank you for being part of the game’s bounce back in 2022 after two years where footy has been so heavily impacted by COVID.
“The footy is compelling and is rating brilliantly, our best games are delivering record results and once again we are closing in on the all-time membership record.”
Crowd numbers have been dismally low since round four. In May, it was revealed that AFL crowds were at their lowest in 26 years, excluding the past two COVID-ravaged seasons. Ticketing issues, perceived over-umpiring, and lingering behavioral changes due to the pandemic were all reported as reasons behind the disappointing turnouts.
But McLachlan was confident numbers would pick up as Melbourne slowly recaptured its title as a “big event” city.
Although not quite record-breaking, the Port Adelaide v Gold Coast game became the second-highest attended match between the two clubs, with 26,214 people watching at Adelaide Oval on Sunday.
The teams with the best consistent turnouts were Richmond, Carlton and Collingwood, with all three clubs featuring in every one of the top 10 matches attended so far this season.
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