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Former AFL player Shaun Smith unimpressed by league’s response to concussion researcher’s plagiarism


Inside a shed on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Melbourne, former AFL player Shaun Smith is putting the finishing touches on a custom-made bedside table.

For some, the sound of an electric sander bouncing off the steel walls of the barn is noise-making, but for Shawn, it’s a form of therapy.

“I basically just set it up to keep my brain active and creative, some neuroplasticity,” Smith said, referring to the furniture business he created.

“I have two choices: sit at home and watch what happens, or face it, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done.”

The towering forward played 109 games for North Melbourne and Melbourne in the 80s and 90s and is perhaps best known for scoring a century against the Brisbane Bears at the Gabba in 1995 .

But repeated concussions during his playing career caused permanent brain damage, and his injuries led to a historic payout in 2020.

The 53-year-old questioned the findings released on Tuesday by the AFL following an investigation into controversial concussion consultant Associate Professor Paul McCrory.

A long-time adviser to the AFL, Dr McCrory laid the foundation for the current concussion code guidelines.

But in March he resigned as chairman of the Concussion in Sport Group amid allegations of plagiarism.

After taking so many blows to the head during his playing career, Shaun Smith says woodworking helps keep his mind active.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

This month, the British Journal of Sports Medicine retracted nine articles by Dr McCrory and said a further 38 were “of concern”.

In a nutshell, a 260-page independent review commissioned by the AFL into allegations of plagiarism found plagiarism had taken place it has not tarnished the AFL’s Dr. McCrory’s work on concussion guidelines.

“Obviously if it was found to be a fraud in one area, why was it 100% correct in another?” said Smith.

“When you see some of the things that Paul McCrory comes up with, it’s not really true.”

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AFL apologizes for poor concussion research

Concussion researcher and neurophysiologist Alan Pearce said that while a number of plagiarized articles are unrelated to concussions, plagiarism is an academic and scientific misconduct.

“We really need to pay attention to making sure our experts are seen as experts,” Dr. Pearce said.

“To be [exposed] how copying and cheating at work need to be emphasized a bit more.’

The plagiarism was an “embarrassing stain on Associate Professor McCrory’s professional and academic reputation,” the review concluded.

The review also criticized the handling of the concussion research project, which surveyed past players and was run jointly by the AFL and the Flory Institute.

The project was found to be underfunded and under-resourced, and ultimately failed to publish any research.

A man is sitting in front of a computer in a polo shirt.
Alan Pearce says plagiarism should not be underestimated.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

“We apologize to the people who wasted their time,” AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said.

“They wanted to learn more about their condition, and we weren’t necessarily as well resourced as we should have been or could have been, but I think we’re in a position to fix that.”

Smith is calling on the AFL to be more proactive in concussion research

Smith said the apology came too late – three years after the study was completed in 2019 – and that players would “feel cheated”.

“[The AFL has] clearly dragged their feet,” Smith said.

“They finally realized it was a waste of time. I think the AFL just needs to stop being reactive and be proactive.


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