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.
- Paul McCrory’s research laid the foundation for the AFL’s current concussion guidelines
- The AFL investigated after he was accused of plagiarism and found that some had taken place, but it did not damage his work
- Smith, who received an injury payout during his years in the AFL, said the AFL’s response came too late and players “felt cheated”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“It’s like they’re trying to hide. They should just come out and say, “Yes, we have a problem, and this is exactly what we’re going to do.” But for now, they’re just dodging bullets.”
Dr Pearce said he sympathized with the players and their families who took part in the study “in good faith”.
“While the apology is nice, I think they need to go a little further in terms of getting the job done,” he said.
Mr Dillon said the AFL would try to finish investigating past players and publish its findings.
The findings of McCrory’s investigation came as America’s leading medical research group, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), officially recognized a causal link between repeated head impacts and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Neurodegenerative disease was recently found in the brain of the late NRL player and coach Paul Green.
Supporters of concussion research had hoped the NIH ruling would lead to a major meeting in Amsterdam this week, attended by AFL officials, including chief medical officer Michael Makdisi.
“I think there’s been so much movement in science around the world in the last three or four years that they’re going to have to respond, and I hope they respond positively,” Dr. Pearce said.
The AFL provided a copy of the review to referee John Kane, who is responsible for the coronial inquest into the death of former Richmond footballer Shane Tuck.
In a brief statement to ABC Sport, Associate Professor McCrory said he was relieved the report was complete and believed it spoke for itself.