Tackling a tragic situation

An airborne tackle can go from legal to dangerous in a split second Photo:Peter J Dean

Melbourne Storm player Jordan McLean received a seven-week suspension for his role in a tackle that has tragically left Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon a potential quadreplegic.

In news that has seen a national outpouring of well wishers for McKinnon and his family, the only silver lining in the situation so far is the support they have received from every spectrum of society. There are hopes the level of attention will lead to a change in the game to avoid a repeat of the incident.

McKinnon was tackled by three Melbourne players, with McLean being the one that lifted him off the ground adding to the dangers of the tackle. Although lifting in a tackle is all too common and generally ends up with a referee giving a penalty if illegal, it only takes a split second for things to go from routine to dangerous.

With much recent talk about head injuries and concussion in sport, the unfortunate incident highlights and brings into focus the changes and measures needed to better protect the short and long term welfare of players.

The outcome of McLean’s involvement has been controversial in itself with a seven week suspension for what would normally be far less. Many in league are still trying to steer clear of commenting on whether it was too harsh. The penalties of being reprimanded through fines and other sanctions in questioning the governing body and the judiciary’s decisions means most in league can’t afford to voice their opinion.

However some have commented, with the Newcastle Knights themselves slamming the NRL for singling out McLean, saying brothers Jesse and Kenny Bromwich should also have faced a judiciary hearing for their involvement in the three-man tackle.

There is no need to play the blame game with an incident such as this. What needs to happen is for people to collaborate on an outcome that ensures such tragedies don’t reoccur. A thorough investigation into what can be changed, or tweaked at the very least, can ensure that such an incident is avoided in future.

Perhaps the NRL can ban a third man in a tackle, something that was discussed some time ago following other controversies. Referees could be coached into intervening sooner, before anyone can lift a player, in tight situations such as McKinnon’s tackle and penalise teams if they fail or refuse to respond. This incident has been a very high price to pay for change, if change actually does come about, and everyone’s thoughts are with McKinnon and his family.

Given the discussion over the tackle and the outcome, the NRL needs to consider the effect it can have on the welfare of the game and its players. It also needs to consider the impact it could have on parents who may opt  for their children to play other sports instead of league due to the potential dangers of injury as the game continues to grow and evolve.

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