Concussions rules in the AFL will be probed as part of an investigation into the death of a former Tigers player who had a degenerative brain disorder.
Shane Tuck took his own life last year and an autopsy revealed the 38-year-old had “severe” chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to changes in behaviour and mood.
The same condition was found in iconic players Graham “Polly” Farmer and Danny Frawley after they died.
The potential links between concussions, the disease and the development of mental illness will be a “strong focus” of the investigation, the Coroners Court of Victoria was told on Tuesday.
Tuck played 173 games as a midfielder for the Richmond Football club in the “modern era” between 2004 and 2013, counsel assisting Gideon Boas told the court.
“That raises questions about what was known, what was done and what could or should be done in the context of AFL,” Dr Boas said.
He said a list of players who had their professional careers ended early after serious concussions included Nicky Winmar, Heritier Lumumba, Shaun Smith and Jonathan Brown.
“The list is, of course, far longer,” he said.
A mandatory 12-day break for players who get a concussion has been brought in for this year’s season.
How the AFL managed sports-related concussions and head injuries during Tuck’s career and how it manages them now will also be examined, Dr Boas said.
A report showing the correlation between the brain disease and participation in contact-based sports had been received by Coroner Simon McGregor.
“Research that has actually been produced to me certainly shows this correlation between a genuine risk of profound lifetime injury in a profit-motivated workplace featuring a high turnover of young people and therefore a long aftermath trail for any consequences,” Mr McGregor said.
“This is just the beginning of the investigation,” he said.
The proposed scope of the investigation will examine whether there was a link between the head injuries and concussions Tuck endured during his AFL career and the disease.
It will also investigate if there was any relationship between Tuck’s mental health leading up to his death and CTE.
Whether the AFL’s rules and policies are reasonable to address the risk of the degenerative brain disorders when players sustain a head injury will also be examined. This will also be checked in relation to Tuck’s brief career as a boxer from 2015 and 2017.
The league’s head of legal Stephen Meade asked for time to make submissions in relation to the draft scope of the investigation,
“It’s potentially very broad and has the potential to impact our sport,” he said.
He told the court the AFL acknowledged medical advice showing there could be an association between head trauma and CTE.
“It’s our position though that it is a matter in respect of which further research is needed in order to establish the link and the nature of that link,’’ he said.
Mr Meade also said the sport encouraged players to donate their brains to science.
The coroner has yet to decide if a full inquest into Tuck’s death will be held.
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