The recent National Rugby League crackdown on high-contact tackles has resulted in multiple player send-offs and sin-bins during games.

In the next episode of our podcast, Ethical Antidotes, we speak with lawyer and sports-governance expert, Dr Annette Greenhow.  Elite and professional sport is a model for youth players, therefore it must evidence ethical sporting behaviour in line with rules of play, as well as athlete safety and welfare.  Penalty boxes (aka “sin-bins”) perhaps could be used as a true reflection box.

Historically, penalty boxes were created because monetary fines on [ice hockey] players were not successful at deterring inappropriate behaviour.  A physical place of separation to sit out and process penalty grief was deemed more valuable.   Ideally, the choice of real estate and length of time in the box should allow for a pause in play with supportive ethics coaching.  Specifically, leagues could consider adding this coach role to the penalty box landscape as an aid to athlete wellness.

In our podcast, Dr Greenhow discusses her international research on sports governance and sports-related concussions, giving us all (players, parents, fans, coaches) insightful information on the stakeholders and context of head injuries in sport.  It’s important to remember that severe head injuries can happen in many sports besides football and rugby, and elite athletes generally have short careers, so preserving their brains and cognitive function for their future is vital.

It is possible to cherish the brain and cherish sport at the same time, and this should be the ethical goal.  Team values should never prioritise financial gain over athlete safety and welfare.   At all levels of the game (executive, management, coach, health staff, athlete) we need a new mantra: Save the Brain, Save the Game.  Releasing the tension between pausing and playing (allowing injured players to rest and heal) and relying on skill rather than brutality, fosters ethical sport.

For organisational ethics consulting, coaching, and training, contact Katrina Bramstedt, PhD Head of Advisory at Your Call.