After the Farmer story broke, former Hawk premiership player and 1987 Brownlow Medalist John Platten spoke on SEN's breakfast show. He said the revelation about Farmer was "pretty scary". Platten said he suffered at least 40 concussions during his 18-year career which began in the SANFL. One of those concussions was suffered during the brutal 1989 Grand Final against Geelong. He was so badly concussed in that game, he remembers very little about it and, to this day, cannot remember receiving his premiership medal.
He said on SEN that reading the Farmer story made him concerned about his own well-being, " ... it certainly brings back a little bit of memories ... It’s a bit concerning ... they can only diagnose CTE when you’re dead and I want to know now if there’s any problems ... ". Currently, Platten said he suffers bad headaches once or twice a week and forgets little things. He described himself as happy-go-lucky but said he also gets frustrated at times. Family members have noted subtle changes in his behavior, “It’s not an everyday concern but certainly when someone says something to me ... and then five minutes later I forgot ... it is scary.”
Platten doesn't blame the team doctors. He said he would know he'd gotten "whacked" because, "... you see a few stars and someone comes out ... and they say, ‘How are you going?’, I said, I think I’ve been whacked but I’m not sure ... Then you come off the ground and you start vomiting and then you start to realize I have been hit and I have got a concussion, what do I do? Do I go to hospital or do I go home? “All these little things come back to you now thinking that maybe I should have had two or three weeks off.” Platten has a check-up every year and said the silver lining of Farmer’s diagnosis is that it will increase public awareness for CTE.
Several other former players have also again discussed their concerns and issues they have since their playing days. All of them, including Platten, played at a time when players were expected to tough it out. Former Demon Shaun Smith believes he has CTE and said Farmer's case was only "the tip of the iceberg". Smith has agreed to donate his brain to The Australian Sports Brain Bank for testing. Smith said he was showing all the signs and that the description of Farmer's issues were him "in a nutshell". He went on to say that medication had helped. Smith, 50, detailed his battles in recent years. So depressed was he that twice he attempted to take his own life and says, "Thank god I didn't. The first time I went into hospital, I was at an all-time low. I had had a blue with a so-called friend, I drank 22 cans in three hours. I wasn't quite right. I didn't want to wake up." He also went on to day that he was unable to work due to being too unpredictable from day to day.. Smith also fears for the next generation (his son Joel plays for the Demons), saying, "When you see young guys ... having to retire [because of concussion] ... Paddy McCartin, I think he should, his brain is showing some wear and tear and Paddy is only 23 or 24. It's absolutely nuts that he is in that situation at such a young age."
The last weekend of February, Smith was playing in a charity match but came off at half time feeling unwell. Later that evening at home, he started slurring his speech and fell over. He was rushed to the hospital. Initially, it was feared he had a stroke, but he believes it was caused by the concussion issues. More tests will be done, but he said he was feeling much better the next day.
Former Carlton champion and Brownlow Medalist Greg Williams, 56 (now a part time coach with the Blues), said he has had symptoms associated with CTE, including memory loss and aggression. He supports the AFL's more stringent guidelines but believes more needs to be done. Williams said he also feared for AFLW players unless more free kicks are paid to discourage head-high incidents. While he admires the way the girls attack the contest so ferociously, he says he worries that they don't know how to properly protect or brace themselves for hard tackles, "I am told girls are six times more likely to get concussed ... I admire what they are doing and how it has taken off ... Girls especially, they are just charging in, they don't know how to protect themselves ... ".
Latrobe University's Associate Professor Alan Pearce who also runs the Australian Sports Brain Bank in Victoria said the AFL should ban tackling for junior players under the age of 12 to reduce the risk of concussion. Pearce went on to say that there probably was not much which could be done to change the rules to make the game safer at adult level. But he did emphasize the need for understanding in adult players,saying that if they don't "feel right" after a knock 'if in doubt, sit it out.'' Pearce went on to say that there would be more cases of CTE in the AFL.
AFL Players' Association chief executive Paul Marsh said it was "inevitable" that more former players would be found with CTE, but also said it would not change the attitude of current players and that the game was safer now than in years gone by. AFL CEO Gill McLachlan released a statement in response to the news about Farmer, saying the AFL would continue their research in the area of identification and management of concussion at all levels of the game.
Dr Peter Brukner, before becoming a doctor, was once badly concussed during his playing days in West Australia. He has served as team doctor at Melbourne, Collingwood, Liverpool in England and for the Australian cricket team and now is professor of sports science at Latrobe University. Both he and Peter Jess, lawyer and player agent, agree that more needs to be done. Jess is leading the potential class action suit against the league.
Jess said that research has shown the brain is still dysfunctional four weeks after concussion, and other studies say it is vulnerable for up to six weeks, and if a player is hit again in that time the damage is likely to be three times as severe. This, says Jess, explains the premature retirement of former Collingwood and Brisbane defender Jack Frost. Frost was forced to retire two years ago after suffering 14 concussions in 56 games. He like Shaun Smith, pointed to the case of Paddy McCartin.
Another who was forced into premature retirement is former Bulldog Liam Picken. He would like to see the AFL introduce a "concussion" substitute player, saying, .. it would "... take the pressure off players, clubs and medical staff and reduce the disadvantage to clubs if they lost a player through concussion." The concussion sub would be in addition to the regular substitute player who can come on at any time for any other player who is subbed out of a match.
The Farmer story was picked up and reported in a number of overseas newspapers: the New York Times, Reuters, New York's Union Journal and Sky Sports from the UK. Links to their stories:
Source: theage.com.au, sen.com.au, author notes
Article last changed on Tuesday, March 03, 2020 - 2:10 PM EST