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Concussion Protocol in Disrepair - It’s Time For the Top to Act

The night was 25th September 2021. NRL Preliminary final. The stakes were high and the adrenaline was running for players, coaches and officials in both the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers camps.

The quality of football was impressive, the hits were hard and incredible skill was on show.

Not more than ten minutes into the game Christian Welch went down with a head knock.

No action was taken by the doctors or coaching staff to remove a player who was visibly concussed

No action was taken by the doctors or coaching staff to remove a player who was visibly concussed, enough for the referee to stop play. It took ten more minutes for action to be taken and remove the player from the field. Welch then failing his HIA test and unable to return to the game.

Fast Forward to 12 mins to go, the game was on the line with the scores at 10-6. The panthers star halfback Nathan Cleary went in low for a tackle, hitting the side of his head on the hip of the attacking player. He staggered to his feet trying to shake off the feeling, then staggered and wobbled as he ran back into the defensive line for his team.

Nathan Cleary concussed with 12 minutes to play and still played the rest of the match

This footage was replayed twice by channel nine to millions of viewers, the commentator stating, ‘he is in trouble here... he staggered twice!’. Nathan Cleary continued the final 12 minutes of the game without any officials deeming it necessary for him to leave the field for assessment. This is the second time this year the Panthers have not removed Cleary from the field following a concussion, the first being in round 3.

This type of display is not making it easier for coaches, officials and trainers at grass roots level to convince players to take head injuries seriously and to follow protocols.

The burden does not lay with the players.

Christian Welch unable to pass HIA after playing 10 minutes with concussion

When viewers see coaches and even doctors at the highest level blatantly defying rules, what message does this send to the millions of viewers? This is the reason the culture has taken so long to shift.

Officials must be held accountable for their decisions. Money does not seem to talk. Fines get handed out weekly and yet the same actions continue.

The only way to get through may be going as far as removing points from a team for leaving a player on the field knowingly. If officials see that the outcome of a game or even their season can hinge on following this protocol, it may kick them into action. The only other option I see is the implementation of independent trainers who make injury assessment on field.

By getting our professional sports organisations in check, I predict this will filter down into all levels of competition. Young children will grow up aware of the risks, if their idols show them it is important, they will as well.

Only then will players at all levels start seeing that staying on the field when your brain is in trauma is not ‘tough’ and it’s not worth it to win the game.

Like any good change it needs to be driven from the top. It’s time for the top to act.

Melissa Khoury

BrainCast & Onside Sports Podcast

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