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AFL quells brain disease fears

Matt Thompson  January 24, 2013 7:00 AM

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Ex-Crow Scott Stevens was forced to retire after multiple concussions


AFL MEDICOS have quelled fears damage sustained from head knocks could lead to increased cases of players incurring brain disease, despite dramatic new evidence from the United States.

Analysis of brain tissue from former American NFL player Junior Seau, who took his own life, showed he suffered from a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalothapy (CTE), which is caused by multiple concussions.

AFL medical commissioner Dr Peter Harcourt said the League was conducting further research but believes it is unlikely footballers here could face the same fate.

"We have an open mind about the connection between head trauma and concussion and long-term (conditions) such as dementia and depression and other mental health conditions," Harcourt told AFL.com.au.

"But from all we can see at the moment if there is a risk it's very small, all the evidence seems to suggest it's very small."

AFL.com.au can reveal the League will host a major forum on concussion in March, featuring a number of high profile speakers.

Past players could also be asked to take part in groundbreaking research to determine whether Australian footballers are at greater risk of brain disease and mental illness than the broader population.

Harcourt said the League was continually looking at the issue and will ask retired champions to take part in further studies.

"We're looking at running a research project that looks at past players to actually define what the risk is in the AFL, to see if there is something there and if there is a risk," he said.

"We've been working hard at minimising any risk on current best practice and we know what we're doing at the moment is the world's best practice.

"We've got quite rigorous requirements for the management of concussion in the field of play. We have auditing and reviews of the management of concussion of players and we are commissioning research as to what the long-term risk is."

However, the possible long-term effect of multiple concussions has a number of precedents among AFL players.

Former Demon Daniel Bell sought compensation after being diagnosed with a brain injury while dual West Coast premiership wingman Dean Kemp and ex-teammate Chad Rintoul received payouts after repeat concussions.

Adelaide's Scott Stevens was forced into retirement in 2011 as a result of multiple concussions.  

Seau, 43, shot himself in the chest in May last year.

The linebacker had a career spanning 20 NFL seasons playing for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

Seau's family donated part of his brain to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which came back with the findings.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide contact LifeLine on 13 11 14.

Matt Thompson is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter @MattThompsonAFL