The horrific tackle that has left NRL footballer Alex McKinnon with a devastating spinal injury has been replayed over and over again on every channel in every state.
It’s a single moment captured on film which has probably changed the life of a 22-year-old athlete forever.
Perry Cross was an aspiring athlete who dreamed of wearing a gold jersey and staring down a haka as a Wallaby. But that dream was crushed during a trial match for a Queensland representative side when he went down awkwardly in a tackle. He suffered a severe spinal injury and has been a C2 quadriplegic ever since.
“I lay there in shock, my mates were in shock and I just thought to myself ‘gee can I run that ball again. I wish I could do that differently’ … and unfortunately you can’t.”
That was almost 20 years ago but Perry can vividly remember how he felt in the weeks and months after his injury. He’s angry that we, the media, have been replaying the footage of Alex McKinnon’s tackle.
“When I first saw the vision I was pretty shocked, pretty horrified. I couldn’t watch it. I didn’t expect they would actually show it and then in the following few hours and days it got replayed over and over and it was becoming a bit daunting. It was like ‘wow they can really milk this vision’.”
Those comments left me feeling hollow. SBS has also broadcast that chilling moment like other TV networks. Like many journalists I’ve become somewhat desensitised to the emotion behind the injury and tragedy that I so often report on. In reporting on this story, I wanted to make sure the audience could see what I was talking about, but in light of Perry’s sentiments I think that tackle has been replayed more than enough times now.
That single moment has left Alex McKinnon and his family in a horrible situation but Perry Cross points out that his team-mates and opposition players will also be struggling to come to terms with this incident.
“His team mates are going to need a lot of counselling to come to grips with this because they’re grown men and they’re tough guys, but at this stage there’s not really much anyone can do to help but emotionally support Alex and his family through this.”
“You’re so blown away by the severity of it, you know, every waking moment is spent thinking about moving and thinking and feeling and it’s a real mental challenge.”
‘We need to do more to prevent serious sporting injuries’
Alex McKinnon’s tragic accident, like Perry’s, received national attention. But there are many others that haven’t. Professor Caroline Finch from the Australian Centre for Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) says serious sporting injuries have increased by 40 percent in the past seven years, with increasing professionalization of sport.
Professor Finch rejects the notion that “accidents will always happen”.
“I take a lot of issue with people when they say ‘it was just an accident. It just happened’. Well it didn’t because there were reasons why these incidents occurred why they have done so in the past and why they will continue to do so”.
These days Perry Cross works tirelessly through his spinal research foundation to find a treatment for people suffering similar injuries to his. He is, however, adamant that preventing them from happening in the future should be the major concern of sports administrators.