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Graham Polly Farmer
Polly Farmer

Graham "Polly" Farmer passed away in 2019 at the age of 84. After his passing, a sample of his brain tissue was examined. In a first for the AFL, both a scientific journal and the West Australian newspaper reported that the examination revealed that he had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) from head knocks he suffered during his playing career. While the medical journal did not reveal his name, the newspaper did. Farmer played 356 games from 1952 to 1971 as a ruckman for East Perth and West Perth in the WAFL and for Geelong in the VFL. He is considered a revolutionary figure in the game because of how he played the ruck position and his use of the handball.

During the past years of his life family members reported anger and aggression issues, personality changes, depression and a deteriorating memory that accelerated in the final five years of his life.

The case was detailed in the journal by Associate Professor Michael Buckland from the Australian Sports Brain Bank. In a strongly worded conclusion to the paper, Buckland and his co-authors describe CTE as an “occupational health issue” for those playing collision sports, “That (CTE) exists at all should serve as a call to action to recognize and research CTE and the very clear association with a repetitive head injury. Claims of a lack of demonstrated ‘causality’ are unhelpful, and arguably irrelevant when assessing a public and occupational health issue as CTE.” Currently, there is no way to diagnosis CTE until post-mortem. Nor is there any evidence as to risks players who have suffered concussions might have of developing CTE.

This new revelation adds a layer to how the AFL addresses the issue for current and former players. However, they did recently announce tighter protocols to their guidelines for players who have suffered concussion. Starting this year, players will be assessed five days prior to a game. If they fail the test, they don't play. According to AFL legal counsel Andrew Dillon, this hew ruling reflects the league's "... ongoing conservative approach ... The health and safety of all players is paramount and ... we have strengthened match-day protocols, changed the laws of the game to further discourage high contact, improved the identification of potential concussive incidents through video, and we continue to invest in research to better understand concussion at all levels ... ".

In 2017, the American Medical Association conducted a study and found that 110 out of 111 former NFL players had CTE. The NFL has already paid out over $700,000,000 since 2000 to former players. It is believed that the figure could reach $1 billion. in 2019, CTE was discovered in two former rugby players - a first in that game.

Paddy McCartin gets the hand ball away under pressure
McCartin Handballs

Several former AFL players are considering legal action against the AFL, claiming they suffer cognitive issues as the result of concussions suffered during their playing careers. Among them are Shaun Smith, John Barnes, Greg Williams and John Platten. Recently, players such as Liam Picken, Matt Maguire and Koby Stevens have retired from the game due to the ongoing effects of concussion. St Kilda’s number one draft pick Paddy McCartin has not played since Round 16, 2018 because of ongoing concussion issues. Several years ago, highly rated Brisbane recruit Justin Clarke was forced to retire after a severe concussion he suffered while playing in the NEAFL. He never had a chance to make his senior debut.


Article last changed on Tuesday, March 03, 2020 - 2:23 PM EST

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