The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one.
It’s time for the AFL to admit they have a rather big one on their hands.
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The league have attempted to rub out dangerous acts from the game, things that in the long-term could quell any players’ quality of life.
It’s a worthy cause, especially with the rise of former players coming forward as they struggle after repeated head knocks throughout their careers.
Unfortunately the league have overcorrected in their attempts and the result has left simple acts now being penalised and left fans fuming over the game they love.
Each week multiple players are fronting up to the Tribunal to try and clear their name from a reported dangerous tackle.
On Thursday night at the SCG we saw arguably the worst free kick that has been paid this season.
Swans star Nick Blakey had just danced around Brad Crouch and was looking down the field for an open option.
He took far too long and was left a sitting duck as Saints player Dan Butler licked his lips and lined him up.
He executed a near perfect tackle, one coaches around the country from a junior level would teach, as he grabbed Blakey around the sternum before turning to the side and bringing him to the turf.
Unfortunately in this day and age, it resulted in a free kick to the Sydney player as Blakey’s head came into contact with the turf.
Blakey was ultimately subbed out of the game before the end of the third quarter through concussion.
Melbourne premiership player Daisy Pearce said Blakey’s concussion would mean Butler’s tackle will almost certainly be scrutinised closely by the MRO.
“The precedent this year is if you tackle a player to ground and their head hits the ground, regardless of outcome, it has the potential to cause injury,” Pearce told Channel 7.
“We empathise with Butler, but on precedent this year he’s in trouble, particularly if Blakey has been subbed out with concussion.”
Swans legend Jude Bolton said it would be disappointing if Butler was suspended.
“I still think it’s a footy action,” he told Channel 7. “It’s one of the toughest tackles to execute when you’re running from behind and I think he’s actually guided him down.
“There’s going to be accidents in football. I don’t think it’s cut and dry like that.”
Footy fans watching on were left incensed the tackle resulted in a free kick and more so were worried the moment would cost Butler a week on the sidelines.
Rohan Connolly wrote: “That is NOT a dangerous tackle by Butler on Blakey. If you can’t do that, you quite literally, cannot tackle at all.”
Mark Stevens wrote: “That ain’t a dangerous tackle…”.
ESPN’s Matt Walsh wrote: “Begging Chrisso (MRO Michael Christian) not to punish the outcome.”
The Herald Sun’s Sam Landsberger wrote: “Dan Butler is every chance to become the 35th player suspended this year … and ineligible for the Brownlow. Fewer than 40 were rubbed out in 2022 (including finals). Are players who pay the price for the AFL’s sudden crackdown on dangerous tackles really not among the fairest?”
Damon Jackman wrote: “Issue is the lizard had no idea the tackle was coming, so naturally body can’t brace for impact, and full momentum of Butler brings his limp body to ground. It’s a totally fine tackle in the situation, nothing more Butler could do. Not run in full pelt? Game is cooked.”
For years now fans have had no idea what will come from Match Review Officer Michael Christian and the AFL Tribunal.
This year things have been taken to a whole new level with tackles now appearing to join to the bump on the AFL’s dead-list.
Unfortunately the Butler incident fundamentally changes the game if he’s to be slapped with a one game ban.
It sets an ugly precedent that players can’t even tackle an unsuspecting opponent with the vigour and tenacity coaches far and wide try to drum into their players.
If Christian hands down a one-week ban, the AFL are making it clear the path their going down is to one day become touch footy.
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