AFL Debate Club: The tribunal is 'no longer fit for purpose'

Welcome to ESPN's AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!

Concussion continues to be one of the most debated topics in footy, and this week, Rohan Connolly and Matt Walsh go head to head debating whether the four-week ban Nathan Broad copped reflects how bad the sling tackle on Patrick Parnell was.

The punishment for Nathan Broad's sling tackle doesn't fit the crime

Rohan Connolly: I disagree with the prompt. We're not slow to hop into the AFL's judicial system when they get things wrong, so perhaps we should spend more time praising them when they get it right. And I think this is one occasion they did.

Four games for Broad is one more than Adelaide' Shane McAdam, also sent straight to the tribunal, received for his shirtfront on Giant Jacob Wehr in Round 1.

I think that's about right given Broad's "victim", Adelaide's Patrick Parnell, was concussed, didn't return to the game, and is out this week as well, whereas Wehr actually returned to the fray.

Both of those incidents, albeit different types of indiscretions, were clearly completely gratuitous and unnecessary. But at least McAdam could argue that the ball was in play and that an effective defensive action might have won it back for the Crows.

Whereas by the time Broad had Parnell safely wrapped up in a tackle and unable to dish off by hand, the little Crow was all but over the boundary line and clearly unable to keep the ball alive. By the time Broad slung him to the turf, Parnell was at least one metre over it. Any amount of force was going to take him completely out of play.

Why Broad felt the need to metaphorically crack a walnut with a sledgehammer is anyone's guess, but it was obviously dangerous and even more unnecessary than your standard sling tackle, which is really saying something.

All that said, I'm not a fan of the AFL choosing to make examples of players at random (and yes, cynically), I believe those dealt the harshest penalties often seem to be the lower-profile types and not the stars.

Broad has been appropriately remorseful, the publicity he's received has been suitably damning, and I think a good month on the sidelines as well is the final part of a sizeable whack which, hopefully, discourages other players from this very dangerous practice.

Matt Walsh: With all due respect, Rohan, giving Broad just one more week than McAdam, especially considering Parnell didn't return and won't play next week, is still inadequate. I'm just not sure some of the players still get it!

It was such an unnecessary act so close to the boundary, and the kicker is we won't know the what the overall outcome on Parnell's health might be until years down the track -- as we're starting to find out with past players.

On the ESPN Footy Podcast this week, I said perhaps five or six weeks would have been a comfortable punishment; would cause controversy and debate, yes, but players and clubs would surely get the memo - don't do it. For Broad to be given four, the same as Scott Lycett for a similar sling in 2021 -- despite what we know now about concussion and the looming legal action -- is pretty bewildering.

But I want to shift the goal posts slightly. The AFL tribunal is no longer fit for purpose on these incidents. It paints the football clubs as the' 'bad guys' as they try to argue the tribunal down.

Incidents like these can cause long-term health issues, and it's a terrible look for a football club's representatives to be arguing down weeks when deep down head honchos know it should be a lengthy suspension and would no doubt feel uncomfortable arguing 'for three weeks', as Richmond's lawyers did.

Given Broad was not given a ban by the MRO, and the case sent directly to the tribunal, what was Richmond to do? Turn up, nod along, and offer Broads wrists to the AFL's lawyers? It's almost disingenuous, not great optics, and not a good outcome for anyone concerned.

I think the AFL needs to get serious on incidents involving concussion. Firstly, they need to dismiss any mention of precedent - especially from incidents from years gone by. The landscape has changed. Head knocks may cost the AFL millions of dollars, and players their long-term health.

Then, don't send these to the tribunal. Update the 'magic table' to reconsider head knocks, re-assess what is 'intentional' and 'careless' (hint: Kysaiah Pickett's hit was not careless, he didn't show his 'duty of care' to Bailey Smith).

There's a way to all but eliminate incidents like these. Ban Broad for six weeks. Ban Pickett for six weeks. These are not fair football actions. Players have a duty of care to their opponents, and if they can't show that duty of care, they're sidelined for a long time.

It may sound hysterical to some, but rip the band-aid off now. In five years I guarantee we'll be taking this a lot more seriously and my suggestions won't seem radical at all.