When the official word coming from the Newcastle Knights described the Alex McKinnon situation as a “devastating spinal injury”, no one, in their right mind, was prepared for the news that was to follow. This afternoon Channel Nine revealed Knights player Alex Mckinnon was declared, by medical staff, a “quadriplegic” (which refers to the paralysis of the body usually caused by spinal injury), and with this news, the collective hearts of the NRL and, indeed, the sporting community, came crashing in a simultaneous, devastating thud.
Tragedy has an uncanny way of putting life in perspective. Suddenly, nothing else matters. Not two competition points. Certainly not any of our petty problems. Suddenly, “the darkest day in sport” has a new perspective. It just doesn’t seem fair that this sort of tragedy could happen to anyone, much less a well loved, well admired rugby league hero. I can only imagine how his family must feel. Our collective hearts go out to Alex and his family and pray for strength and inspiration for the challenge that lies ahead. Still, from what we understand (and news is still filtering on the exact extent of the diagnosis), all hope of walking is not necessarily lost.
Of course, along with tragedy often comes good, even though it doesn’t always appear possible. This tragedy has already bound a community together in thought and prayer. The NRL has already come out and stated that it will continue to support Alex indefinitely. Of course, there is the remote possibility that Alex may walk again. What a story that would be. There’s also the awareness by the NRL of continuing to work at trying to make the game safer for all participants.
Put in perspective, this can only be described as a freak accident. This was a once in 40 years type incident. I hope there is no knee-jerk reactions from the NRL, in terms of rule changes. There was certainly no evidence of malice, intent or recklessness in the tackle. I’ve heard fans making suggestions from limiting the number of tacklers to a maximum of two defenders, to banning the lifting of the leg in defence. Whilst most fans would support changes to make the game safer, we don’t need to make radical changes which will affect the very essence of rugby league.
Our thoughts should also go out to Jordan McLean, who was involved in the tackle in question. He must be feeling absolutely gutted upon hearing the news of Alex McKinnon’s diagnosis. McLean will obviously get the right support around him, but the mental scars will, unfortunately, remain forever. I certainly hope the kid doesn’t take it all to heart and continues to make his mark in the game. In the meantime, we all wish Alex all the very best and pray that, through hard work and medical miracle, he is able to make a strong recovery and the best possible scenario can be attained.