Welcome to ESPN’s AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!
This week, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh debate the hottest topic of the week: was Brayden Maynard deserving of a suspension for his contact with Angus Brayshaw?
Did the AFL Tribunal get the Brayden Maynard decision right?
Matt Walsh: Call me dramatic, call me a wuss, point out that I’ve never played in the AFL, but it’s a travesty that Maynard was cleared and a precedent wasn’t set … but you can’t blame the tribunal as they were just following the laws and guidelines set by the game’s governing body.
A precedent had to be set here to ensure these acts don’t happen in the future. There’s a reason there are so few sling tackles in the game compared to five or 10 years ago. There’s a reason why contested situations are a lot safer to enter than they were five years ago. It’s because the onus is on the player attacking the contest to show a duty of care to their opponent. And because similar acts were punished heavily to discourage unsafe collisions. And the game isn’t worse off for it.
But the AFL’s current system has failed Brayshaw — and its players — so badly because no precedent could be set from the Maynard collision. It’s not unreasonable to say the AFL’s fight against concussion has been set back by years, because players will continue to fling themselves into situations like this, with their shoulders braced without regard for their defenceless opponents.
There was only one person in that contest who could have prevented the concussion, and that’s Maynard. His uncompromising style of play is usually — rightly — revered, but there are situations in footy (as we’ve learned with sling tackles, and bumps in contested situations) where things need to be dialed down, because you have a duty of care to your opponent. An opponent still in the motion of kicking – when he is as defenceless as possible on the field.
A number of issues have emerged from this week, the most glaring being the AFL’s current laws and guidelines for head knocks and collisions is criminally outdated for what the league says it’s trying to achieve in the space of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Simply, the tribunal had its arm twisted by the current criteria set out by the AFL, and had no choice but to let Maynard off – with the help of some savvy arguments from Collingwood’s lawyer Ben Ihle. I’m not sure appealing under the current climate would result in a different outcome.
But to question new AFL GM of Football Laura Kane for overruling Match Review Officer (MRO) Michael Christian and sending the incident to the tribunal is laughable. The fact Christian didn’t deem this worthy of citation on the current (not-fit-for-purpose) grading table is shocking, given the tribunal is a setting at which players can clear their name if they are deemed ‘innocent’ as Maynard was.
What the decision means for Kane and incoming CEO Andrew Dillon is they’re going to have a busy offseason. Never again can an incident like Maynard’s be allowed to be dismissed as ‘part of the game’ and the Commission and Competition Committee needs to be on board. We need not mention the looking threat of legal action with regard to brain injuries.
Eliminate — or, punish — these acts (not the outcome) and players will change how they attack these contests, like they have tackling, and like they have more broadly with the bump. Next time, Maynard might go into the contest differently while still affecting the contest safely (there are any number of ways to do so). And the game will be better off.
Jake Michaels: Absolutely, unequivocally, YES!
Maynard had no case to answer for the incident which, unfortunately — yes, it was exactly that: unfortunate — left Angus Brayshaw concussed. Yet that hasn’t stopped a significant portion of football media, as well as fans, dragging him through the mud, begging for a please explain and demanding upwards of a three-game suspension for the better part of a week. Give me a break.
The only thing Maynard was guilty of was giving 100% effort in attempting to smother Brayshaw’s kick inside 50. He was already airborne by the time Brayshaw got boot to ball, and while he did make contact with his opponent, it was clearly incidental and hardly severe impact.
There was no malice. There was no raised elbow. There was no intention to take out his man. There was nothing even remotely untoward. It’s become an overused term this week, but yes, it was indeed a football act. An act we see numerous times every game and move on from as quickly as they occur.
So why haven’t we done the same with this one? Because, yet again, we’re placing far too much weight on the outcome, as opposed to the action. It may sound tough, but we can’t alter our opinion on what’s a legal and legitimate football action purely based off the fact Brayshaw was left concussed — which is literally what is being done here.
It would be the equivalent of Player A laying a tackle on Player B, leaving Player B with a ruptured ACL and half the football fraternity crying for a suspension. How ridiculous does that sound?
Tackling is a part of the game, as is smothering, and accidents will occur from time to time. By no means do we want to see players injured on a football field, but there are inherent risks of playing a collision sport at the highest level. Not every one of these injuries or incidents must be met with serious ramifications, or any sanction, for that matter.
Instead of focusing on Maynard, we should be looking to stamp out the non-football actions. It flew totally under the radar on Tuesday evening, but Jack Martin had his two-game ban for striking Nick Blakey reduced to just one week. That’s it. One week! He literally punched an opponent in the face, contact which was exponentially more dangerous and severe than Maynard’s and few even cared to discuss it. I guess it’s okay, though; Blakey was able to play out the game…