Former AFL player gets historic $1.4 million concussion payout

Australian Associated Press
·3-min read
A 50-50 split image shows Shaun Smith on the left and a screenshot of his iconic mark against Brisbane on the right.
Former AFL player Shaun Smith won a $1.4 million insurance payout after it was found he had suffered significantly from the effects of concussions suffered in his 109-game career. Pictures: Fox Footy/Open Mike/AFL

Former AFL player Shaun Smith plans to donate a significant portion of his historic $1.4 million concussion damages payout to concussion research.

Long-time concussion campaigner Peter Jess, who drove Smith's case, says the one-time high-flyer wants to "lead the charge" to ensure future generations of players don't suffer the same damage he has.

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"He's concerned that the next generation doesn't suffer what he's been through," Jess told AAP.

"We were just talking about it (on Friday morning).

"He said 'look, Peter, I need to lead this charge now ... I need to make sure that the next generation don't finish up like me'.

"He's not selfish. He knows his damage and he wants to look after the next cohort.

"He's got a very strong community spirit."

Jess expects the donation will be "in the tens of thousands" of dollars and will likely be used to fund research by Associate Professor Alan Pearce, the Australian Sports Brain Bank's research manager in Victoria.

Smith was knocked out numerous times during a 109-game AFL/VFL career with North Melbourne and Melbourne which ended in 1998.

The 51-year-old, who took out a personal insurance policy with MLC about 25 years ago, received his payout this week.

He was found to have suffered a "total and permanent disablement" as a result of repeated head knocks.

Jess believed most AFL players would not be entitled to similar payments under the terms of their policies with AMP, the game's major insurer.

"It's a denial of every player's basic human rights," Jess said.

"They are employees and they should be able to turn up to their workplace and know full well that they are covered in a sufficient manner for any of these outcomes that we're talking about, and they're simply not."

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The spotlight has intensified on AFL concussion protocols, partly on the back of former football champions Danny Frawley and Graham 'Polly' Farmer being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The brain condition can only be diagnosed at autopsy and is associated with repeated blows to the head.

"We're out of time for hollow words," Jess said.

"What we need now is concrete action to protect this game so that in the next generation we are not dealing with Danny Frawleys."

Shaun Smith is pictured playing a VFL match for Werribee in 2002.
Former AFL player Shaun Smith is pictured playing in the VFL in 2002. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

An AFL spokesperson said the health and safety of all players was paramount.

"In recent years we have strengthened match day protocols, changed the Laws of the Game to further discourage high contact, improved the identification of potential concussive incidents through industry leading video technology, and we continue to invest in research to better understand concussion at all levels of the game," the spokesperson said.

"Earlier this year the AFL made changes to the concussion guidelines for the 2020 AFL and AFLW seasons to reflect our ongoing conservative approach in managing concussions at the elite level.

"These guidelines will continue to be reviewed based on expert medical advice and research."

AAP/Shayne Hope