Georgie Parker: AFL send-off rule would stop the concussion crisis plaguing the league after Jy Simpkin hit

Georgie Parker
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Andrew Dillon appeared on Sunrise ahead of the AFL season opener.

High contact bumping is viewed the way we used to see the punch in the AFL.

It’s ugly, it’s stupid and we are over our players being hurt.

The punch is gone as thuggery is no longer accepted and players know better than to choose to do this.

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But the bump, while being less common, is still around. Unless you’re guaranteeing shoulder-to-shoulder contact, you have to be either brave or stupid to attempt one.

We have had two lengthy suspensions issued within seven days of each other before the season has even started. Port Adelaide’s Sam Powell-Pepper was handed a four-game suspension and St Kilda’s Jimmy Webster copped seven.

What we know now about the dangers of head high contact has led to harsher penalties, and these latest two — particularly Webster’s given how clear cut it was — have pushed conversation about a send-off rule back into the forever-circulating pool of topics in the AFL world.

From my extensive research (dinner at my friend’s place with three generations of AFL fans, and the always charming comments on X), I believe that the “save the bump” fans are in the minority and the support for the send-off has increased.

St Kilda’s Jimmy Webster knocks out North Melbourne’s Jy Simpkin
St Kilda’s Jimmy Webster knocks out North Melbourne’s Jy Simpkin. Credit: Fox Sports

And to be honest, it’s baffling to me that the AFL doesn’t already have one to begin with.

Not only does the AFL literally decide to change rules mid-season, so obviously is fine with tinkering, it is the only contact sport in the world without one.

Why? It doesn’t make sense, particularly given how firm the concussion protocols on both match day and the weeks following are.

Players with head knocks are now required to sit through lengthy tests, and doctors are pushed to be as cautious as possible, meaning a team is left a player short on the bench (as well as the following week or two), while the other side is has a full strength line-up.

This doesn’t add up. Why is the team which has done no wrong so disadvantaged? A send-off rule could square the ledger.

The problem is people believe there is no retrospective justice with a send-off rule; that if it was a wrong decision then a team is disadvantaged for no reason. Well, so what?

There is no retrospective justice for any wrong decision. You don’t suffer a wrong decision and then the umpire feels indebted to you to give you a free kick down the other end. That’s not a thing.

Umpiring mistakes happen, and will continue to happen. The Crows didn’t get a spot in the finals to make up for the umpiring blunder which denied Ben Keays a goal, did they?

You’d like to think on-field decisions are correct more often than not. We have to believe this, or the game isn’t worth playing or watching.

Umpiring is subjective, and will continue to be subjective as rules are interpreted by each umpire. It’s not tennis, where the ball is in or out. Footy rules are situational, and a good umpire doesn’t necessarily look at rules as black or white.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 03: Jy Simpkin of the Kangaroos is seen coming out of the rooms after half time during the 2024 AFL AAMI Community Series match between the St Kilda Saints and North Melbourne Kangaroos at RSEA Park on March 03, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Jy Simpkin after he was knocked out during the game against St Kilda on March 3. Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

A send-off should be for very rare circumstances. They should barely happen, but in saying that, we have had two “rare” circumstances in two weeks, and not even in matches that matter.

What constitutes a send-off is the question that would need to be explored, and this is where I believe the AFL can start to show they are really invested in a proactive approach to concussions.

All of this is coming from someone who played a sport with a send-off rule and got a 10-minute yellow card in the Olympics.

I sat there, genuinely feeling as though that was an unfair decision. I believed it was undeserving, as did my coach and teammates, yet the decision was made and I had to deal with it and watch on.

You can’t look at a send-off rule within the frame of isolated incidents. I can’t look at my yellow card and because I think that one wasn’t fair, then no card should be issued again. The majority of the time the decisions made are correct, fair and reasonable. You have to look at it for a greater good of the competition you’re playing in, and whether it would alter on-field behaviours.

The risk versus reward is there for me.

The risk of concussion and the risk of a player being sent off by the wrong decision is made up well and truly by the weight of players thinking twice before leaving the ground to bump, for stray elbows to stay down, and ultimately the safety of players to improve.

If that means a player has to be like me and sit out when maybe it was undeserved once in a while, well so be it.

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