Welcome to ESPN's AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!
Following the spate of head-high knocks in Round 1, the team tries to answer the question of if the AFL's MRO and tribunal could have gone harder with the suspensions handed down to Kysaiah Pickett, Shane McAdam, and Lance Franklin.
The AFL missed an opportunity to come down harder on Pickett (and McAdam), especially given the looming legal action over concussions in footy
Rohan Connolly: Once again, the league is hamstrung by its own unwieldy system. In essence, Pickett has escaped with only a two-game suspension when nearly the entire football world seems to think his bump on Bailey Smith was worthy of more because the contact to Smith's head was more incidental and he was relatively unharmed.
And that dictated a manifestly inadequate penalty. In contrast, Adelaide's Shane McAdam's bump on GWS player Jacob Wehr saw the latter assessed for concussion protocol, which at least gave the MRO legitimate reason to refer it straight to the tribunal, where it has some chance of attracting a heavier penalty. All of which to me says, yet again, we have a system which is weighted way too heavily towards consequences, and doesn't take enough stock of intent.
Forget the gradings and categories for a second. Can anyone watch the bumps of Pickett, McAdam or 'Buddy' Franklin from last weekend and not conclude that all have potential to inflict severe injury, are gratuitous, and against the conventions of the modern game?
Not to mention the hideous optics of a bunch of players from the 1980s and 1990s launching a class action against the AFL because of life-changing consequences of concussion, but 30 years on, the same potentially lethal acts being performed on the field?
Given all that, I think there's an inevitable conclusion here, which is for the AFL to grit its teeth and, given both the legal implications and potential for cataclysmic injury, finally simply outlaw the bump altogether. Tackle or corral an opponent, fine. Bump? No.
Once I would have been vehemently opposed to that. But I think it has become an anachronism which, given how rarely it features in today's game anyway, is simply not worth the risk -- to both life and limb, and to the game's financial health -- any longer.
Jarryd Barca: Rohan, you nailed most of it, but you should still be vehemently opposed to eradicating the bump entirely. I don't think it will ever happen, and I don't think it ever should happen, because as long as the beautiful game of Australian Rules football exists, there will always be innocuous injuries and aleatory concussions that occur. A contact sport. It's inevitable.
Make no mistake, though, Kozzy Pickett has effectively been, as far as I'm concerned, left unpunished after his ruthless attack on Bailey Smith. How the Dees star has escaped with just a two-match ban after launching into the air cannonball style and flooring a defenseless opponent after he disposed of the footy is nothing less than astounding. Yep, if I was at Melbourne, I'd be accepting that MRO decision straight away, too.
I get the grading system -- it was deemed careless conduct, high contact, and high impact -- and the use of 'potential to cause injury' to upgrade what they initially deemed as 'low' impact to high I applaud. But I'm not a fool, don't even begin to try and tell me Pickett didn't intend to bump the Bulldogs star.
Just stop it with this brainless leniency we give to players who commit these reckless acts. Intentional or careless? I'm not a magician sceptic but I am certain he wasn't levitating. It has to be intentional.
Rohan explains it well, Jacob Wehr being assessed on the sidelines was perhaps the catalyst for McAdam's 'severe impact' grading. But you can't be letting Pickett off lightly because of a genuinely fortuitous outcome in which Smith was able to play out the rest of the game because his temple wasn't touched. If you outlaw the reckless acts which could lead to injuries, the players stop doing the act.
Bumping a player shoulder-to-shoulder while both chasing a loose ball? Fine, be careful. Cannoning into a guy after he's disposed of the ball? No good. Choosing to bump while the option to tackle is available, like McAdam? Wrong choice, enjoy your holiday, because we are now starting to understand there could be lifelong impacts felt by the victims down the track.
I will always defend a player's right to attack the ball appropriately, and when a concussion is the unfortunate result of a contest or act that was in the spirit of the game, I'm actually happy for no punishment to eventuate. Because sometimes accidents happen.
These types of incidents need to be judged differently case by case - we shouldn't have one blanket rule or a complete outlawing of the bump. But if you want to stop players from putting a colleague's playing career -- and life -- at risk, you have got to put your foot down as a competition to not only create a deterrent but to force players to adapt the way they approach a contest.
You had a chance to take a stand, AFL, and you failed miserably. Stop waiting for something tragic to happen to finally wake up and realise you're getting it wrong.