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Alex McKinnon's accident hits close to home for mums

Alex McKinnon lays on the ground after being tackled.

Alex McKinnon lays on the ground after being tackled. Photo: Michael Dodge

I'm not into football, but even a non-believer like me is finding it hard not to be drawn into the tragic accident of Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon.

The timing is close to home - this afternoon, my eight-year-old begins his first rugby training session at school.

There is heavily circulating footage on news sites and social media of a tackle in which his neck is broken.

Kids playing rugby - is it too dangerous?

Kids playing rugby - is it too dangerous? Photo: Ken Robertson

I cannot watch. McKinnon currently lies in an induced coma - his life in tatters. Who even cares that his football career is over. His family, friends and teammates are just praying he will walk.

Whether my son should play football or not has been a defining moment in my parenting experience.

My heart says no, no, absolutely not.

I said as much when he first nominated rugby as his winter sport.

"No way, stick to soccer," I breezily replied.

But he really wanted to play rugby. Really.

My husband, a committed, nay, obsessive League fan, knew better than to take me on directly on the issue in front of my son.

"If you say absolutely not then he will just want to do it more. Don't make it a bigger issue than it needs to be," he counselled me later.

After a weekend of pleading on my son's part, I began to realise I was going to have to confront my fears that my first-born wanted to engage in a contact sport with a violent professional reputation - not to mention cultural issues with which I do not wish to engage, for fear of unleashing a barrage of Twitter trolls.

I don't like football, and I don't watch it. But I buckled. And today my son begins playing it.

The deciding factor for me was advice from his teacher who said it is better to let him pick it up early, when the youngsters are supervised closely and safety is paramount on the field.

Then he can learn the skills to protect his safety – and, heaven help me, his spine.

As McKinnon's condition and the issues around such a tackle are unpicked on social media, I see I am not alone.

"How much risk do we let our kids take for them to pursue their own passions? (My son) was back at rugby training for the start of the season yesterday. He is playing up an age group this year. Then I come home and see that footage of footballer Alex McKinnon breaking his neck in a tackle and I want to vomit," says one of my Facebook friends.

When I post a picture of my son proudly showing off his new rugby uniform, my friends question my accompanying caption of: "@*#($*&$(*(!!!!".

"Do you loathe rugby culture or the possibility of injury?" asks another friend.

Both, I sniff, and why is my placid, peaceful kid so keen to start tackling people anyway?

She sagely advises me that it will be good for him to learn about what his body can do and to have that tribal bonding with the other boys.

She is right. I will have to cope with injuries as they arise, and I will meanwhile pray he avoids any of those life-changing tragedies I am currently avoiding reading about.

Meanwhile, my husband has helpfully suggested some ground rules – the first of which is that I can never set foot on the field no matter what appears to be transpiring.

That has subsequently been extended to a blanket ban on attending games.

The upshot is that I also avoid those ghastly cold mornings of standing on a front-covered field during training. You'll find me at home sipping tea and trying hard to stay calm.

33 comments

  • Why is only one player being charged on this incident. All three players should face the judicary for the tackle. One may have lift but the other two where part of the tackle they landed on the tackled player. They did not stop the lifting tackle from going on.

    Commenter
    Hardarse
    Date and time
    March 26, 2014, 1:01PM
    • See what I mean...?

      Commenter
      Xolin
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 1:21PM
    • Melbourne Storm have always been allowed to push the limits in the game. "Chicken wing" tackles anyone? Could it have something to do with them being owned and bank rolled by the same people that own the competition?
      However I fear that this kind of injury was inevitable. Look at the size of the players now. They all look like they should be in the WWF rather than Rugby League.
      The rugby league media led by ex players play it up as well with headlines that glorify violent meathead thuggish behaviour. "Bring back the biff" is the favourite saying of rugby league fans. Gallan's gutless king hit in State of Origin was defended. As a New South Welshman I cringed and could not believe he wasn't suspended for 8 weeks.
      The ex player commentators were against banning shoulder charges. They live in the past, a time when there was maybe four players per team the size of the players now.
      People wonder why crowds are down and participation in the sport(?) is down at grass roots level. Who wants to be crippled? What mother would want their son playing this game?
      I grew up in Newcastle and my mother banned myself and my brothers from playing the game as she had seen too many crippling injuries caused by the game when working as a nurse. That was the 1970's. There were usually only a few giant meathead props back then that did the thuggery. Now there are 17 giants per team.
      The game has become boring to watch as well because every set of six tackles is nothing more than giant men thundering into each other and then a kick.
      Incidents like Alex McKinnon's injuries will help to kill this game off.

      Commenter
      Outdated game.
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 2:12PM
  • Eight years of age is the perfect time to start playing rugby (or any other team sport); that way they are already at the mental age they will be for the rest of their sporting 'career'...

    But, then, my son wanted the same, so I let him. It lasted two weeks. The screaming blue murder from the sidelines by all of the bogan parents and the monsyllabic 'banter' of his team mates made him soon realise that that the pain wasn't worth it.

    Commenter
    Xolin
    Date and time
    March 26, 2014, 1:09PM
    • Xolin
      I disagree, team sports are important for every child's development.
      To put it in "monosyllables".They help them to discern what is acceptable behaviour from what is not.
      No, it doesn't always work, as with everything, there are exceptions.

      Commenter
      Glove Puppet
      Location
      Left Field
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 1:47PM
    • Wrong sport then... choose a bogan free one! ;)

      Commenter
      FD
      Location
      Singapore
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 1:55PM
    • @Glove Puppet.
      Team sports are important for a child's development. Mothers do not want to see their children crippled however.
      That is why Aussie Rules and Soccer are growing at grass roots levels and Rugby League numbers at junior level is receding. Auskick encourages boys and girls to join in and mothers approve as it is non contact at early ages.

      Commenter
      Outdated game.
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 2:19PM
    • Yes...but Xolin, to whom I was replying, referred to all team sports.
      IMHO not many 8YOs are crippled.
      I do however advocate weight groups rather than age groups for all contact sports.

      Commenter
      Glove Puppet
      Location
      Left Field
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 2:37PM
    • @FD "bogan free sport"? Isn't that an oxymoron?

      Commenter
      Xolin
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 2:39PM
    • Bogan free sports

      Rowing

      Under water hockey

      My kids play both and they are great for participation, fitness, teamwork and encouragement.

      Commenter
      wear the fox hat
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 4:05PM

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