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16-year veteran of the A.F.L. and its predecessor, the Victorian Football League, said of the A.F.L. leadership. “Until one of their sons gets knocked out and can’t remember anything, they won’t change.”
During the past decade, the A.F.L. has increased penalties for dangerous tackles and going after players on the ground. It also began discouraging players from using their heads as weapons. To some, this was the league acknowledging the game was too dangerous.
“If it wasn’t the case that head knocks were serious, then why did they change all the rules to make the game safer?” Barnes said.
A Brutal Game and Its Consequences
As a ruckman and a forward, Barnes’s job was to play in the middle of the field and jump for loose balls as bodies flew at him from every direction. Flying elbows left him bruised and battered after every game.
“You’d come off the field with a broken nose, two cuts above your eyes, your jaw would be sideways but wouldn’t be broken, and you’d have five eggs on the back of your head,” Barnes said. “If you’re scared, you can’t play footy. That’s just how it was. Dog eat dog mentality.”
The hits to the head took their toll, he said, because players felt they had to shrug off concussions to stay in the lineup. Barnes, now 50, began having seizures when he was 42. They come without warning. He will drift in and out of consciousness for about five minutes and regain his memory in 20 minutes or so. Doctors have said his epilepsy was caused by repeated hits to the head.
He must wait six months without a seizure before he can drive again, so his wife, Rowena, takes him to
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