Decoding the MRP: My brain hurts

 

A recent study of American football players’ brains found 99% of NFL players tested suffered a disease associated with head injuries. The report by the Journal of the American Medical Association studied 202 deceased athletes – just over half from the NFL. All but one former NFL player was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

 

Reports of this alarming nature go back several years now and the AFL’s fight against the bump was an understandable reaction to a serious issue with serious implications. More recently the definition of a legal tackle also underwent review, and few would argue careless or deliberate ‘spear’ tackles with the potential to condemn players to life in a wheelchair warranted heavy sanction.

 

Last week saw the Match Review Panel determine a new precedent. The MRP does a bit of the ol’ in-season rules on the run (jumper punches et al). Despite an established points system the application of any system appears to be organic to say the least.

 

Brodie Grundy never stood a chance in the unofficial trial by media. Even at the ground, as Ben Brown lay prostrate and the Collingwood ruckman waited to take his free kick, the scoreboard operators saw fit to replay the Dangerfield incident from the previous week, thus immediately wedding the two as one and the same. Nevermind the circumstances were indeed different (Grundy not having a Brownlow on the line seemingly the most significant).

 

Somehow the MRP came to the conclusion Grundy’s tackle, sanctioned by all three field umpires as legal, that which drew not a shred of ire from Brown’s teammates, was worse. The brain’s rust decreed that stretcher + ambulance + hospital = 3, whilst action + intent + physics counts for zero. Brown was in a bad way, and would surely miss a week, maybe two. Grundy had to go, there was a message to be sent. A face to save. A goat to scape.

 

Brown of course played this week. Despite the game having no bearing on North Melbourne’s prospects, their medical team felt Brown’s brain was worth risking. Hey, a Coleman Medal was at stake!

 

So to Round 21 and another incident tested the MRP in new and predictable ways. Toby Greene’s method of accepting a handball was in the old parlance ‘agricultural’. I dare say copping a face full of boot studs was the last thing Luke Dahlhaus envisioned at the time. Ultimately, getting inside Greene’s head and assigning motive didn’t matter, for Luke wasn’t mortally wounded. Despite two previous suspensions this year, somehow Greene escaped with a severe reprimand (as the act was generously classified as misconduct rather than rough conduct). Perhaps playing for the League’s own team counts for something. Gah, pass the Panadol please.

 

The other incident which tested the MRP’s grey matter would be the final straw of many final straws for this baffled pundit. For charging at considerable speed with obvious intent to hurt, Ollie Wines escaped with a paltry fine when he bumped Tom Langdon in the head, wide open and unable to protect himself having just disposed of the ball. Whatever happened to ‘the player chose to bump rather than tackle’, ‘his feet left the ground’ and ‘the head is sacrosanct’? Langdon was merely lucky not to have been bumped back into Eastern Standard Time. Notwithstanding, how the MRP arrived at the hit being ‘low impact’ is unfathomable. Should one of the learned adjudicators be subjected to the same impact one doubts they’d be laughing it off as a gentle ‘love tap’.

 

The idiocy of the injury-trumps-intent methodology is laid bare when one considers the possibility of delayed concussion. Furthermore, the brain injuries suffered by NFL players are as much owing to a cumulative effect of multiple hits, not necessarily knockout blows.

 

Langdon will probably play this week. Wines definitely will. Hopefully Langdon manages to escape another charge or kick to the head. Because according to the AFL that’s now kosher. But a tackle as taught and rehearsed thousands of times that accidentally causes injury? Now that’s a ticket to MRP lotto.

 

In announcing the Wines outcome official AFL spokesman Patrick Keane tweeted “Ollie Wines can accept $1000 sanction, rough conduct on T Langdon. No other matters that were looked at required detailed explanation.”

 

How do you explain the inexplicable, in 140 characters no less? The recent rulings discussed here are just the tip of the iceberg. One would need to write a thousand page thesis to adequately cover the inconsistencies of the MRP since its inception.

 

For all their experience at the highest level, if Michael Christian, Nathan Burke, Jason Johnson, Jimmy Bartel and Michael Jamison cannot arrive at remotely logical outcomes then there must be something brain dead about the process they are applying.

 

@JeffDowsing

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.

Comments

  1. charlie brown says:

    Jeff, a very good read. Thank you. I too found the Wines/Langdon incident impossible to reconcile with similar incidents earlier this season (and in previous seasons for that matter). 3 matches down to 2 for me. It could easily have resulted in a broken jaw or worse for Langdon. Another example of the MRP penalty being a function of the severity of injury sustained to the player?

  2. Thanks Charlie Brown.

    Yep, even 1 or 2 weeks would have almost seemed reasonable.

    A few millimetres or degrees either way, that’ can be the pot luck of sustaining a serious injury whether by foul or fair means. Assigning the level of force and legitimacy of contact on the outcome is thereby ludicrous.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    JD couldn’t agree more to suspend,Grundy and Dangerfield for tackles because unluckily the player was concussed yet we have seen sling tackles from Howlett and Brad Crouch not suspended due to pure luck of non injury the overall governance of the game is at a all time low.The non suspension of Wines is a new low I am bewildered and disgusted thanks JD

  4. Why wasn’t Greene penalised for “kicking in danger” on the day? It was just so unusual that umpires and MRP alike did not know how to react. Very dangerous precedent to allow players to give the “don’t argue” fend off with their boots raised.
    Redpath 3 weeks is a joke. Jumper slaps are verboten – no matter how harmless. Dangerous acts like Greene and Wines get off because they lack a precedent or fortunately did not cause serious injury. Madness.

  5. An excellent piece, JD.

    The MRP this season has been nothing short of disgraceful, and all members should be replaced at season’s end.
    Some of the poor decisions which spring to mind immediately: Trent Cotchin’s intentional punch to the face which should have warranted a couple of weeks; Joel Selwood’s blatant forearm to the back of Sam Mitchell’s head (to which the latter took umbrage) which was cleared; Dustin Martin striking the Brisbane player in the face – play on. There are many others. But it does seem the head is sacrosanct sometimes and not at others.
    And Jack Redpath cops 3 weeks for an open hand? Where are we headed?
    As for the penalty being determined by the medical report/ resulting damage? This is nothing short of ridiculous and does not take into account intent. This is luck-of-the-draw type stuff.
    The MRP is a disgrace, a farce, and a blight on the game. It is time to ask whether a penal of ex-footballers is the correct make-up?
    I could go on, but my head is hurting.

  6. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well said Jeff. The MRP decisions are impossible to predict and totally bewildering in the main.

  7. The Redpath penalty was surely a joke? Is it the 1st of April? I got slapped harder than that by my primary school teacher. Fair dinkum.

    My take on the MRP is as follows: The head is sacrosanct, unless it isn’t. But if it is we will make it REALLY sacrosanct, unless we decide not to. And the shoulder and neck area can be called the sacrosanct head, unless we decide it isn’t. But if it is we will call the neck and shoulder area sacrosanct. And a punch is bad, unless we decide it isn’t bad, or unless your name starts with “C” or any other letter of the alphabet. A punch may be a punch, a slap, a push, a really stern look, or even a ruffling of the hair. Unless we decide that it isn’t. We have no idea what an appeal is, but if we get an appeal we will deny it. Unless we decide not to. The head is sacrosanct for most weeks of the year, unless a sacrosanct head is hit during a preliminary final by a player who we want to see playing the next week, in which case the head will lose some of its sacrosanctity and will become just another part of the body – like the trunk for example. But if we decide that the trunk is sacrosanct, then it will be thus. This will depend on whether or not we want the player to play next week. So, in summary, the head is sacrosanct. Full stop. No argument. Unless we decide otherwise. Clear?

  8. Yes Jeff, the mind boggles at the decision that are handed down.

    The PC nonsense of ‘jumper punching’, where a player grabs an opponent’s jumper to push them forcefully is one of the most limp wristed occurrences to ever plague the Australian game. I think of the suspension of Tom Hawkins, as well as Jack Redpath, as asinine nonsense. Yes we want to protect the head but do we suspend players for pushing into another man’s jumper: WTF !?!

    Compounding this we have the case where a serial offender uses his boot to draw blood on an opponent’s face. This character however only gets a token fine. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to be cognisant of the reality it’s not in the interest of the AFL to suspend a player from their marquee team coming into the final series.

    I have flashbacks of Barry Hall belting Matt Maguire in the 2005 preliminary final, then pleading guilty, yet not being suspended. Hall, like Greene, was a serial offender but the AFL has pumped so many M$ into Sydney, they can’t allow their teams to fail.

    Yep the tribunal / MRP has some issues, issues that perplex/frustrate many of us.

    Glen!

  9. Very amusing post Dips and nice delivery off the long run Smokie. One has to wonder whether 5 different opinions goes to the MRP’s inconsistency and on what intellectual basis the owners of these opinions are appointed. Whilst one struggles to imagine them colluding to help execute their master’s grand plans, the human judgement element of rating incidents opens the door to conspiracy theories mentioned by Glen! (the Hall one was a shocker). The MRP can easily manipulate the elements to arrive at whatever result suits – Adrian Anderson’s points system if anything has made matters even more of a lottery than the days of the hanging judge where at least players could plead their case without recrimination.

  10. Dave Brown says:

    A couple of comments Jeff on a well-argued case, accepting your basic premise that the current MRP process/system is stuffed:
    – we should be careful suggesting outcome should have no impact on penalty. That’s a generally accepted principle in justice systems (i.e. murder is generally penalised more harshly than attempted murder despite the intent being identical). Despite it being generally accepted it is, nonetheless, reasonable to question the role it plays and perhaps if the balance is right. Personally I would argue for the reintroduction of the ‘reckless’ classification because it re-emphasises the importance of intent/action over outcome.
    – Grundy’s was not a perfect tackle and tackling like that is no longer taught. Once the arms are pinned the tackler has taken responsibility for what happens next, unlucky or otherwise.
    – mystified (not really) as to why they chose misconduct for Greene rather than classifying the act (careless, high contact, medium impact). Calling it misconduct meant he did not face an upgrade to his penalty due to his poor record. Also bemused by the Wines classification.
    – we also need to be careful on deciding what we are actually objecting to in terms of the act and the severity of punishment. The frustration of the Redpath act is the decision to classify it at all, not the penalty as the penalty is a combination of the classification (one match), his poor record (one match) and decision to challenge it (one match). Looking at the act only and saying ‘why was that worth three weeks’ is like looking at the food component only of a restaurant bill and wondering why the overall bill is so high (when you’ve also had a very nice bottle of red).
    – in terms of what I would like to see happen, I think the MRP guidelines need a significant review, the MRP needs reconstitution with people more distanced from the game (possibly even, shock horror, former umpires) and more effort needs to go into explaining classifications (and non-classifications) on Mondays. Noting that, the system will never make people happy because we have a nuanced game which we all view through the prism of our team’s interests. Cheers

  11. All well reasoned points Dave.

    I agree that the outcome must have some bearing, but at some point this year it became way out of whack (pardon the pun). To take your point and flip it over, attempting (yet failing) to obliterate an opponent in footy hasn’t been punished for donkeys years. In terms of what constitutes a ‘bad look’ for the sport, I’d contend the Ollie Wines bump was more off-putting as a parent than an accident (granted a bit careless) within the context of the play.

    I agree the nexus of the problem lay in inconsistent and plainly wrong classifications which ultimately lead to a bewildering penalty.

    Like the score reviews based on fuzzy footage, it’s hard to conceive that a billion dollar sport gets by on such fuzzy logic.

  12. I was amazed, as a Port man, that Wines got off. At the game, and on replay, I thought here goes 2 weeks. The replays made it look even worse. I was watching “live” when the Greene bizo happened and immediately thought ‘that’s deliberate kicking”. He may have been in the air, but you cannot tell me he was unaware of the surrounding players. Most players over the years have been taught to raise the knee to protect themselves and this has generally been accepted, even though some times the consequences are pretty harsh. But the boot? Sprigs in the face? Give me a break.
    Second thing that is becoming increasingly annoying to me is the TV commentators immediately pre-empting the MRP by deciding among themselves what the degree of guilt and penalty should be. Most incidents get written off pretty quickly as part of the game by the 3 wise monkeys in the box. But I have to agree, the current system is broken and should be replaced.

  13. Good point about the media Bucko.

    If you’re a designated gun you have their wind at your back – the ‘we want the good players on the paddock’ gumf you hear from the likes of Luke Darcy apparently excuses anything, for some. But in other cases they play the role of hanging judge. On a Saturday night Mark Stevens actually runs through each highlighted incident and decrees a penalty as if a fait accompli.

Leave a Comment

*