Gary Ablett Sr opens up on brain damage diagnosis in worrying revelation

With concussion discussions dominating the AFL, Geelong Cats legend Gary Ablett Sr has come forward with a worrying reveal.

Gary Ablett Sr.
Gary Ablett Sr. has revealed he has been suffering the ill-effects of concussion, receiving a diagnosis indicating he had a degree of brain damage following his 14-year VFL/AFL career. Pictures: Getty Images

AFL legend Gary Ablett Sr has spoken about his frustration with the AFL and AFL Players' Association after revealing several long-running health issues related to concussions. The long-term ramifications of head knocks have been a major AFL talking point after it was revealed a class action lawsuit against the league has been brought on by more than 60 former players alleging inadequate medical treatment and diagnosing.

The father of fellow Geelong Cats great Gary Ablett Jr, the elder Ablett became an icon of the game throughout the 1980s and 1990s, winning the Norm Smith Medal in Geelong's losing grand final effort in 1989. The 61-year-old said this weekend that he fears he has suffered brain damage as a result of his years in the VFL/AFL competition.

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Last week, the AFL released a statement saying it had made more than 30 changes to concussion protocols, tribunal guidelines and on-field rules to protect players' heads. It also released a strategic plan for sport-related concussion in Australian football.

Ablett Sr is not a part of the cohort launching the class action, but says he is in the midst of preparing legal action of his own. Having spent the near entirety of his career playing in an age where head knocks were not treated with the seriousness they are now, Ablett Sr said there were many occasions where he would not report feeling ill effects.

The league great first raised concerns about debilitating symptoms with his long-time manager, Peter Jess, who organised for Ablett Sr. to undergo testing. Jess has been a prominent figure in concussion-related issues in the AFL for many years, advocating for several other former AFL players in the past.

"I started getting symptoms that alarmed me to the point where I contacted Peter Jess, whom I'm aware has been a concussion advocate for a number of past players," Ablett told News Corp. "I told him of my concerns and Peter helped organise an MEG scan that American Military use. It showed I have significant structural and functional brain damage.

"Obviously I was a very physical player and while I only got totally knocked out eight-10 times, I experienced being semi-concussed, such as ears ringing and out of it for a few minutes many dozens of times. But because you weren't knocked completely out you wouldn't even bother mentioning it."

Former Geelong star Max Rooke leading class action against AFL

The aforementioned class action against the AFL, which has been lodged by Margalit Injury Lawyers in Victoria's Supreme Court, is being lead by fellow Geelong champion Max Rooke. A dual-premiership player for the Cats, Rooke is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit which alleges the AFL was negligent in its handling of concussion between the years of 1985 and March 14, 2023.

A beloved figure at Geelong who was part of the Cats' 2007 and 2009 grand final triumphs, Rooke alleges he suffered permanent and life-altering injuries as a result of concussion-related injuries and because of the AFL's negligence. He and the other players in the class action are seeking compensation for pain and suffering, economic loss and medical expenses.

"The injuries suffered by this group of former AFL players, as a direct result of the concussions sustained while playing Aussie rules, has had a devastating impact on their lives and the lives of their loved ones,'' managing principal Michel Margalit said.

Max Rooke fends off an opponent during a 2006 AFL match for Geelong.
Former Geelong player Max Rooke is the lead plaintiff in a class action representing more than 60 former players against the AFL. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

"Some of the players who have joined this landmark class action have never been able to hold down a job after leaving the AFL. Their personal lives have been shattered and they live with constant physical and mental pain. It's heart-breaking and they need to be adequately cared for."

Ms Margalit said the evidence had long been clear that concussions were an ongoing risk for AFL players, and that many were likely to suffer effects many years after retiring from the sport. The AFL last year apologised to past players who were "let down" by the league's concussion research project after an independent review criticised the study.

"The medical evidence is clear," Ms Margalit said. "The players' concussion occurred while playing Aussie Rules and those concussions have gone on to cause them serious, lifelong physical and psychological harm."

With AAP

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