Pearce has advocated for players to spend at least 14 days sidelined after being concussed even though his research shows 30 days is the ideal time to recover as he doesn’t want to deter players from being honest about symptoms.
“We don’t want players to start hiding their symptoms or under-reporting for fear of being out for four weeks,” Pearce said.
“Let’s be a little bit realistic here and work on the education and awareness that players then do take ownership of their brain health.”
Under current AFL concussion protocols introduced ahead of the 2020 season players are unable to be considered for selection unless they pass a concussion test five days before a match but there is no mandate on how long a player should be sidelined with the AFL long arguing that each case was different.
Former Melbourne and Suns player Kade Kolodjashnij was the latest AFL player to admit underplaying the extent of his symptoms when he was concussed while former Saint Paddy McCartin admitted in an SEN interview in 2019 that he would fudge baseline concussion tests to make it easier to pass return to play tests.
Pearce said it was still too common for people within the sport to elevate the actions of those who cop big hits rather than wondering whether a safer alternative was preferable.
He also said introducing biomarkers to assist doctors diagnose concussion would be a positive step as there was still too much reliance on the player being frank about what they were experiencing.
Tuck died in 2020 after experiencing mental health issues and Pearce said there was emerging research overseas that identified the link between concussion and mental health however more work needed to be done in that area.
“The science is still emerging and that is one of the things we desperately need is funding research for us to look at the strength of that relationship because obviously in science correlation doesn’t mean causation,” Pearce said.
He said the Australian Sports Brain Bank, which has more than 300 people committing their brain to research, was keen to increase the number of footballers who play country and suburban football prepared to pledge their brains to increase the pool of evidence.
“We have to acknowledge that CTE is a real disease and it’s certainly a risk in contact sports,” Pearce said.
“We can’t deny that it’s no longer the exception, that maybe it’s more prevalent than we realise but we won’t know that unless we complete the research on it.
“We have to reduce the exposure [of players to head knocks] so whether that means modifying the game at a junior level to reduce that exposure at a young age … we don’t want to stop anyone from playing the sport, we just need to look at ways of making safer and then as adults they can make that decision based on the risks and benefits.”
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.
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