AFL in denial on concussion, says Williams
Memory loss ... Greg Wiliams. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
GREG Williams says he has gone public with his revelations of brain damage in a bid to help footballers of all ages.
Williams, 49, confirmed in a television interview on Seven on Sunday what those close to him have known for some time - that he is suffering memory loss and mood swings.
The dual Brownlow medallist and 1995 Carlton premiership star believes this is the result of repeated hits to the head during his 250-game career with Geelong, Sydney and Carlton.
Head knocks: Carlton legend Greg Williams is concerned about the effect of concussions. Photo: Ken Irwin
Asked on Monday about his concerns for his long-term health, Williams replied: ''I am worried about it. But there are things you can still do. I am not going to give up on it.
''The specialist said he can help, do things every day to stimulate your brain.''
Williams said he was tired of hearing from administrators that AFL footballers were unlikely to suffer the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is the result of repeated blows to the head and has become a major point of concern in American ice hockey and football leagues.
The disease is responsible for memory loss, depression, major mood swings and has led to the suicide of former players. It can only be diagnosed post-mortem.
''They [AFL administrators] have been in denial on this, that it doesn't exist. It's just bullshit. They are saying that for a reason,'' Williams said.
''They have taken the bump out of the game - you can't bump the head, that's all good. But there have got to be more changes. It's not just AFL players, it's juniors. I know kids that play three games on the weekend. I am trying to protect the game as well, not just the kids.''
Williams, who was concussed four times, said players should have up to two months off if diagnosed with a heavy concussion. On average, there are six or seven concussions per team per season, with Kurt Tippett, then with Adelaide, and North Melbourne's Lachlan Hansen two of the more prominent cases last season.
''They [AFL] have got to protect players, like Joel Selwood and these guys,'' Williams said.
''They can't help themselves, they are too courageous for their own good. When they get knocked out, they have got to have the right procedures in place to not play for a month or two months.
''[Kurt] Tippett got knocked out twice in two weeks, he is heading down the same way as that rugby guy.''
Former North Queensland rugby league player Shaun Valentine, 36, has been told that he has the response times of a man 20 years older after taking part in the same Deakin University study as Williams. He left rugby league after six concussions in two seasons.
Williams said the AFL and the AFL Players Association needed to do more. ''I don't think the players' association is doing enough at all. Their job is to look after the players and, to me, they are not looking after them,'' he said.
''They say there is no such thing as CTE - they are in denial about it.''
Player agent Peter Jess, a long-time concussion campaigner, said the AFL had a duty to provide greater care for players.
''At the moment, clubs are self-insuring only while players are on their list. There are no provisions for long-term issues, which is the basis of what this is all about,'' he said.
But AFLPA player relations manager Ian Prendergast said it was up to the state government to change the rules so players could be covered under workers' compensation. He said Williams' story underlined the importance of seeking more information on brain injuries.
''It reaffirms in our mind the need to find out as much information as we possibly can about the potential long-term effects it may have on players,'' he said.
Hawthorn great Dermott Brereton last year said he would consider donating his brain should Australian sport's first ''brain bank'' be established to test for the long-term implications of concussion and serious head injuries.
The AFL will be involved in a two-day Concussion in Sport conference on March 20 and 21.
AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said former players had access to financial help. ''A player retirement fund and other benefits for former players are part of the [collective bargaining agreement],'' he said.
The league has strengthened its rules in recent years and is set to introduce more initiatives for the match-day management of concussion. But in Williams' era, there were no such rules.
Williams did not wish to comment when asked if he would consider legal action against the AFL should it be conclusively found his failing memory was due to the hits he took on the field.
West Coast premiership hero Dean Kemp and Adelaide premiership player Chad Rintoul each won injury compensation after repeated concussions ended their careers.
The AFL and AFLPA are also conducting more than 20 research projects, including the continuation of the 1985 Maddocks study.
''The AFL, AFLPA, medical officers, clubs and the wider industry have all been looking for some time at the collective issue of player health and safety,'' Keane said.
''We've seen that across a multitude of different areas in how that is addressed - concussion treatment guidelines, player rules around head contact, tribunal rulings on verdicts relating to head contact … industry education and knowledge sharing, such as the regular medical meetings each year around the finals and upcoming concussion symposium.''