St Kilda medical staff attend to Mason Wood after he was concussed against Collingwood in round two, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE AFL is considering appointing independent doctors at all AFL games to assist club medical staff in identifying and assessing players for potential head injuries.

The possible move comes after a recommendation from Victorian State Coroner Judge John Cain, following the inquest into the death of former Richmond midfielder 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 in December last year, Judge 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's findings included recommendations for the AFL to:

  • Have independent doctors attend every AFL and AFLW game to help with assessment of players;
  • Limit the number of contact training sessions at AFL and AFLW clubs, and;
  • Allow concussion spotters in the AFL Review Centre (ARC) to direct clubs to remove players from the field for concussion assessment during matches.
Shane Tuck in action during Richmond's clash with Carlton in round one, 2012. Picture: AFL Photos

In its response to Judge Cain's findings, the AFL said on Monday it was supportive of the recommendation to consider having independent doctors work with club medical staff to determine whether a player should be removed from a game after a head knock.

If there was a disagreement about whether to remove a player from the field, the independent doctor would have the final say, Judge Cain recommended.

"The AFL … is currently liaising with contact sports globally and considering other matters to identify best practice for the role to be played by an independent doctor in collaboration with club doctors," the League said in a statement.

The League already has independent doctors attending every AFLW game to assist club doctors with general medical support during games.  

The AFL confirmed that concussion spotters in the ARC now had the power to force players to leave the field for a head injury assessment.

The League is also consulting with clubs, players and coaches about further limiting contact training sessions ahead of the 2025 season. Boxing, sparring and other combat sports have already been banned at all AFL and AFLW training sessions.

The AFL has also continued to address education on concussion and repeated head trauma at all levels of the game, including updating the Community Football Concussion Guidelines that mandate a minimum break of 21 days before players return to play at all levels outside the AFL and AFLW.

"The AFL continues to invest in, and support, research into concussion and repeated head trauma, including supporting the use of instrumented mouthguards by players, encouraging brain donation, and investing in the AFL Brain Health Initiative longitudinal research program," AFL general counsel Stephen Meade said.

"On behalf of the AFL, we reiterate our deepest sympathies to the Tuck family on Shane’s untimely passing in 2020 and their immense contribution to research into concussion and head trauma in Australian football."

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