THE AFL will formally review the recommendations of the Victorian State Coroner after his investigation into the death of former Richmond player Shane Tuck.
Tuck, the son of Hawthorn legend Michael Tuck, died in 2020 at the age of 38 after a 173-game career for the Tigers from 2004 to 2013.
In handing down his findings on Monday, State Coroner Judge John Cain said it was accepted Tuck received repeated head knocks in his football career and while competing as a professional boxer.
Tuck was diagnosed with a severe form of the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after his death.
Judge Cain did not make findings into the nature of Tuck's death, but instead looked at preventative measures in sport to reduce concussion.
Among these was a recommendation for the AFL to limit the number of contact training sessions, employ independent medical practitioners to attend every AFL and AFLW match and continue to assess other ways to measure and limit concussion from head knocks, such as the use of mouthguard accelerometers and protective helmets.
Along with his recommendations, Judge Cain commended the AFL for its work in recent years to implement concussion protocols and alter the rules of the game.
In response, the AFL pointed to the more than 30 rule changes it has implemented over the past two decades that have been designed to protect the head and said it would formally respond to Judge Cain's recommendations within three months, as required by the Coroners Act.
The League also expressed its condolences to the Tuck family.
"The AFL continues to prioritise the health and safety of our players at all levels of the game and the AFL will now take time to formally review the recommendations of Judge Cain that were largely focussed on reducing repetitive head trauma in our game," the League said in a statement.
"(The AFL) annually updates the AFL and AFLW concussion guidelines to improve the response to head knocks in our game in accordance with current and evolving science. The AFL is constantly investigating further changes and initiatives that involve technology and equipment trials and exploration of concepts that are directed towards protecting the health and safety of our athletes.
"The AFL's concussion protocols have been developed on the advice of qualified medical, concussion and scientific experts. We will continue to base the continued evolution of these protocols and ultimately the continued health and safety of our players on the advice and guidance of qualified medical professionals and scientific experts.
"The AFL reiterates its sympathies to Shane's sister Renee Tuck who gave evidence at the Coronial Investigation hearings and the Tuck family more generally on Shane's untimely passing three years ago and their immense contribution to research into the concussion and head trauma in Australian Football."
In his findings, Judge Cain recommended the AFL limit the number of contact training sessions players participate in before, during and after the regular season from 2025.
The sporting body should also employ independent medical practitioners to attend every AFL and AFLW match to help club doctors assess players after head knocks. They should jointly decide whether the player should be removed from the game but if there's a disagreement, the independent advice wins out, Judge Cain said.
The AFL should also develop and implement baseline neurological testing for each player to do at the start of each season, the judge said.
The data should be linked to the player's clinical profile to monitor for any changes and be used more widely by the league for ongoing medical research.
Judge Cain said the AFL should continue to assess the use of mouthguard accelerometers and protective helmets as other ways to measure and limit concussion from head knocks.
The League also acknowledged Judge Cain had "commended the AFL for its commitment to supporting research in this important area of player wellbeing, health and safety including with its Brain Health Initiative longitudinal research program which will aim to commence recruiting participants in 2024".
"Judge Cain also commended the AFL for the work that it has done in developing and/or implementing the CSX App, Hawkeye and the use of concussion spotters in the ARC for AFL and AFLW games.
"Judge Cain's findings also referred to the report and evidence of Dr Robert Cantu, Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research at the Dr Robert C. Cantu Concussion Centre who stated in his report that the approach to concussion by the AFL is not only a reasonable and proportionate framework for the protection of participants in training and playing of Australian Football but is state of the art."
The AFL Players Association said it would look to discuss Judge Cain's recommendations with the AFL in more detail.
"The AFLPA has consistently advocated for improvements around reducing and managing head knocks and concussion in our members, and we look forward to discussing the Coroner's recommendations in more detail with the AFL," AFLPA general manager of legal Megan Comerford said.
"It remains clear that more work needs to be done to protect, care for and support current and past players who have, and will continue to, put their bodies on the line so the industry can prosper."
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