Hitting a person hard enough to break a bone would usually find you becoming the subject of the police’s attention, even if the injury was caused accidentally. But in the world of sport, that’s not necessarily the case. Whether it should be, though, is the subject of a debate currently unfolding in the world of AFL.
During a AFL game in Perth on Sunday, West Coast player Andrew Gaff hit Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw with such force that Brayshaw was rushed off the field with a fractured jaw and displaced teeth. His coach subsequently revealed that he won’t be able to eat solid food for a month and will be out of the game for the rest of the season while he recovers.
Shocking images shared on social media showed the severity of the teenager’s injuries, with his mouth and teeth bloodied and a gaping split in his lip.
A video of the incident appears to show Gaff deliberately swinging a round-arm punch at Brayshaw, at a time when neither were in contention for, or even near to, the ball. His punch was judged by a review of match officials to be intentional conduct, although some commentators have suggested that the hit was an accident, or that Gaff did intend to hit Brayshaw, but in the chest or shoulders, not in the face.
Others, though, have pointed out that causing another person such a serious injury on the sporting field should attract more than a suspension, as it would if it occurred off the field.
For one, The Australian’s sport commentator Peter Lalor has argued that police should charge Gaff over the punch. He said that if Gaff was sitting in the wing of the Perth Stadium when he hit Brayshaw, he likely would have been charged on the spot.
“Why should an act that can receive a heavy sentence for anybody else on a Friday night outside a pub not be considered the same when it happens on a football field?” Lalor asked. “There’s no need for CCTV or unreliable witness statements on this one, it happened in full view of a packed stadium, it was replayed on every medium across Australia yesterday.”
His season is over & hecan’t eat solids for a mth. #AndrewGaff shouldn’t be allowed to play until his victim is well enough too. AND the #AFL shouldn’t start his suspension until #AndrewBrayshaw plays his first game after this! #WesternDerby #WestCoastEagles #FremantleDockers pic.twitter.com/1BO0PCOPZZ
— NES (@The_Real_NES) August 6, 2018
Lalor noted, however, that the last time someone was charged for violence on the AFL field was Leigh Matthews back in 1985, which indicated the “footballers apparently have some form of diplomatic immunity” from prosecution over their on-field actions. (Gaff returned to the field to finish the game, as Brayshaw was taken to hospital.)
After the game, though, Freemantle coach Ross Lyon likened the punch to 18-year-old Brayshaw being ‘king hit’ in the street.
Gaff, who has apologised and said he was sickened by his own actions, will face a tribunal on Tuesday night that will decide what sanctions he will receive.
Meanwhile, Lalor’s calls were echoed by prominent Perth lawyer Tom Percy, who appeared on Monday’s episode of Sunrise to claim that people have gone to jail for less than Gaff’s actions, adding that there would be a police enquiry if the attack happened on the street.
“It’s premature to talk about penalties, that would depend on the extent of the injury, what sort of residual disability the player might have as a result of the blow,” Percy said. “Sometimes we need to look at permanently putting people out of the game. It sounds harsh, but these days we do it for drugs and there’s an argument to say we should also do it for violence.”
On Monday afternoon, West Coast CEO Trevor Nisbett issued an apology through the West Coast Eagles Twitter page. “We take full responsibility for the incident, as does Gaffy,” Nisbett said. “We are very apologetic to the Brayshaw family and to the club.”
“We have checked in with Andrew Brayshaw, we spoke to Mark. Fortunately he is in a reasonable position considering what happened. We take full responsibility for the incident, as does Gaffy. We are very apologetic to the Brayshaw family and to the club.” CEO Trevor Nisbett pic.twitter.com/b74C8lURo4
— West Coast Eagles (@WestCoastEagles) August 6, 2018
But Nisbett said that QC Tom Percy’s comments were unnecessarily inflammatory and inappropriate. “We’re very disappointed with what he had to say,” the CEO said, on Percy raising the prospect of police involvement.