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Tackling the ‘Gray’ issue in footy

The Bryce Gibbs tackle has generated diverse views among passionate football people.

The Players and the Game Group discussed dangerous tackles, where a player’s arms are pinned and he is slung or driven into the ground, earlier in the year.

Following a fascinating discussion amongst members of this high-calibre group, they came up with a really mature position on the issue.

While players were comfortable with where the adjudication was at, they asked that it be monitored by the AFL and were of the view that a player tackling has a duty of care not to slam an opponent’s head into the turf through a double-action tackle, with the intent to inflict injury, particularly if it involves lifting an opponent.

It’s one thing to have a general position on an issue like this. It’s another to have everyone – including our members – agree on how these incidents should be adjudicated by umpires and the MRP.

It’s tough, with an issue like this, to have more than 800 players on the same page. Especially when there are probably 200 each week that do media.

Having said that, I think the AFL Players’ Association does a good job of communicating with players to ensure they understand and support our positions – on the basis they reflect the feedback we have received from players, who know we are focused on protecting their interests, and the game’s interests.

This issue is a difficult one given the amount of ‘Gray’ around it.

Players are competitive beasts.

One of our AFLPA Board members, Patrick Dangerfield, even commented about it being a tough call on Bryce, given players have an obligation to tackle hard for their team.

He’s right. But I’m comfortable with the position reached by the Players and the Game Group being reflective of where the AFLPA needs to be on this one.

Sometimes the Association needs to be a little ahead of where ALL players are at, to protect these supreme athletes from themselves.

What I can’t cop is any suggestion that decisions like this are making the game soft.

You only have to sit down close to the fence to appreciate the intensity with which players attack the contest, and their willingness to compete.

I spoke with Leigh Mathews at length this week, arguably the best and hardest player of all time, and he said the game has never been more physical. Nor have players, in his view, ever displayed the reckless abandonment and total disregard for their safety that they do in the modern game.

A number of current players have referred to the intense scrutiny on their performance, “internally and externally”, as a reason why very few players shirk the issue or take a half step these days.

“Go when it’s your turn and go hard … crack in,” they’ll say.

As someone who David Parkin, my first coach at Carlton, described as the “most stupid courageous” player he ever coached, I’m well placed to appreciate that sometimes we have to protect players from themselves, particularly those making the play.

Like it or not, tackling players have a duty not to knock an opponent out by slinging or driving them into the ground.

The MRP has a difficult role in interpreting these incidents, and no doubt players will feel harshly done by at times depending on the circumstances – as Bryce does on this occasion –  particularly when they are being judged more harshly on the outcome, rather than on its similarity to other incidents.

But given the concerns about concussion and the incredible courage that players display in the modern game when attacking the contest, the Players and the Game Group is supportive of the player with the ball being protected.

Ironically, I have noticed Bryce copping some stick on social media about the style of his play, despite only 31 players in the AFL last year having more tackles.

More than 13,500 tackles have been made this year.

I don’t think anyone wants to see a trend emerging where players are being knocked out by opposition players executing what some have described as the “perfect” tackle. Especially considering players are constantly striving for perfection.