Patrick Dangerfield's suspension proves there is no room for the 'bump' in modern AFL

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AS I WRITE this column, the public reaction to the three-game suspension imposed on 2016 Brownlow Medal winner Patrick Dangerfield for rough conduct is still taking shape.

I can almost guarantee, however, that the response will be far from universal, and that there will be significant numbers of people who believe (a) the penalty was correct, or (b) it was inadequate, or (c) Dangerfield was hard done by.

That's not unusual when a high-profile player goes before the AFL Tribunal. But when it comes to the bigger picture of the bump and its place in the game that those three different views seem further from reaching consensus than in any other type of reportable incident.

For some years now, every time a player is suspended for a bump which injures his target, we ask the same question: "Is the bump officially dead?"

And every single time the question is asked, we get two different answers from two distinct camps in the football world, neither of which actually address the issue.

In one corner, the traditionalists lament how a once-intrinsic part of the game can now possibly be seen as a football crime. In the other are those who maintain the bump is still viable, but simply must be exercised with a greater duty of care.

I've always had time for both schools of thought, but I think the Dangerfield suspension is the one which finally has me convinced this is no longer worth the debate.

I'd argue that a more pertinent response to the "alive or dead" question is: "No, it's not dead, but in the football world in which we now live, it probably should be".

And, I hasten to add, that's not because I'm soft, nor because I don't appreciate the toughness of an older version of the game. It's a perspective formed purely on practical grounds, of which there's several. And the Dangerfield case merely underlines them.

The bump is the quintessential Exhibit A in the court case between two diametrically opposed football judiciary philosophies - intent and consequence.

I've never been a fan of the extent to which the latter has come to dominate the former in Match Review Officer and tribunal findings. But times have changed. And the dangers (pardon the pun) of both serious injury and serious litigation mean that continued pendulum swing is inevitable.

In a game of contact played between finely-tuned, hardened professional athletes, there are always going to be occasions on which acts free of malice and within the spirit of the game nonetheless produce serious injuries. There's also times when a bona fide mongrel act thankfully does relatively little damage.

It means that, both theoretically and more often in practice, a pre-mediated, callous punch or elbow can be penalised less severely than an act which was once a routine part of the game. Yes, just like the bump.

That makes for some strange paradoxes when it comes to penalties. And yet now, more than ever given the disturbing body of evidence and the very real prospect of huge compensation payouts to former players whose lives have been compromised by the effects of repeated concussions, to argue consequences shouldn't be taken into account is naïve to the extreme.

We currently occupy a space where the bump is ostensibly still legal, and yet the consequences of executing one make it hardly worth the trouble. So why put players in a position where they have to instantaneously make an impossible calculation given the speed at which such a decision needs to be made?

And let's be honest, how many instances of heavy contact, shirtfronts or bumps, in the game's past were really acts of genuine toughness?

In fact, I think there's a fair argument, looked at in hindsight, that a lot of them were cheap shots. An unsuspecting player either possessing or chasing the ball, who was systematically picked off by an opponent who wasn't interested in the ball, and when it came to the inevitable collision, held all the aces.

When a player carrying the ball, or preparing to take possession of it, meets an opponent whose primary objective is a bump, it's the guy with the Sherrin who is always going to come off second-best.

And aren't those cases the vast bulk of the bumps we do see these days? How many can you remember in the modern era where two bodies pursuing the football an equal distance away brace themselves then make contact? Not many, I would have thought.

Tackling has effectively replaced the bump. Our players are far better at that art than they used to be, there's a lot more of them, and they're more likely to impede an opponent's progress than a bump which might not stop him in his tracks.

And even when it does, at what price? Given the speed at which both players were moving from different directions, I'm not sure, as his defence team argued, that Dangerfield could have done much more to ensure his bump on Jake Kelly was legitimate.

And yet even that had little bearing on whether the ensuing contact saw Kelly emerge relatively unscathed, or, as was the case, with concussion and a badly broken nose. So why force players to make a decision with the risks of opting for the bump so high? Why not put aside the grandstanding and actually, officially, do away with the bump as a legitimate defensive action?

Sure, there would be plenty of opposition and hyperbolic claims of people "giving the game away" as a result. But they're most likely those whose romanticising of the bump in football isn't generally backed up by much evidence that an integral part of the game will be lost.

If this was about preserving the high mark, the long run down the wing or the long bomb at goal, I'd more understand any kerfuffle.

But for the amount of times we see a properly-executed bump in today's game (few), and for the amount of risk it now carries both for the player hit and (in terms of penalty) the player doing the hitting, what, really, is the point of preserving it when abolishing it could make the game simpler, safer, and also get rid of the recurring minefield every time one of these incidents occurs?

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at footyology.com.au.