Concussions In Female Athletes Could Lead To “An Intergenerational Nightmare”

AFL player agent Peter Jess has voiced concerns about concussions amongst female players

What you need to know
  • AFL player agent Peter Jess claims he warned the AFL about female concussions back in 2016
  • Research shows female athletes are more prone to concussion than men

When the AFLW competition was introduced in 2017, it was a massive development for female athletes that allowed them to play AFL at a professional level. However, there are concerns that the game has also exposed its players to alarming rates of concussion.

Speaking to News Corp, AFL agent Peter Jess claims that the rising popularity of AFL amongst women and girls “will create a whole new prism of damage” and will eventual become “an intergenerational public health disaster” when these women reach their 30s and 40s.

Jess, who is currently involved in bringing legal action against the AFL on behalf of past players who allegedly suffered neurological damage following on-field concussions, claims that he “pleaded with the AFL” to better protect female athletes before it launched the women’s competition.

Ellie Blackburn (left) of the Bulldogs contests with Jamie Stanton of the Lions during the 2018 AFLW grand final match  (AAP Image/Hamish Blair)

His concerns seem to have been justified. AFLW stats from the first two seasons reveal that the number of women missing matches due to concussion injuries is more than double compared to the men in the AFL. This is also consistent with US studies that suggest women are 50% more likely than men to suffer a sports-related concussion.

Some doctors say the difference are due to anatomical reasons; women’s brain axons may be shorter so are more easily damaged, their neck muscles tend to be weaker so do not stabilise the head as well as men’s upon collision, and some research suggests that oestrogen levels could also make women more vulnerable to concussion.

But, perhaps a simpler explanation is that because many female athletes are less experienced in playing collision sports, they are less experienced at protecting themselves when playing. These self-protective techniques can be practiced and honed at training, such as teaching players to turn side-on when picking up a football or running back into a contest. As reported by Fairfax, there have also been trials of new helmet designs in the men's league, intended to reduce the risk of concussion.

Given the rapid rise in the popularity of AFLW and other contact sports, such as the women’s NRL, the need to better protect female athletes before they suffer long-term, irreparable damage is urgent.