OPINION: McKinnon suit a dangerous precedent
Opinion: For the unaware, news broke last week that former Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon had sent a letter to the NRL informing them of his intention to pursue legal action, two years removed from the tackle that left the 24 year-old in a wheelchair.
With McKinnon also pursuing action against Melbourne Storm forward Jordan McLean for his involvement in the tackle, it has been a difficult issue to sit on the fence with. On one side of that fence is the legal entitlement McKinnon shares with any employee who suffers an injury in the workplace to compensation.
Precedent was set in 1985 when Canterbury was ruled vicariously liable for Steven Rogers' broken jaw - following an altercation with Canterbury's Mark Bugden - to the tune of $68,154.
The other side, and one shared by most pundits, is one that for a moment looks past the tragedy of what happened on the field and to the person off it.
Round 19 of the 2014 NRL season was dubbed the "Rise For Alex" round, and in a show of overwhelming solidarity from the NRL community raised funds for McKinnon and his family.
The campaign raised $1.2million, to go with the $500,000 compensatory payout from the NRL and the estimated $500,000 paid out from the final two years of his Knights contract.
Former NRL boss Dave Smith also promised McKinnon a job for life with the NRL and that promise still stands, as he works in recruitment at the Knights.
But it was hard to continue the sympathy for McKinnon when, in a 2015 60 Minutes interview he blasted Cameron Smith for arguing the penalty call following the McLean tackle.
Smith, arguably the nicest bloke in Australian sport; one who attempted to visit McKinnon in hospital, was a vocal supporter of the Rise For Alex campaign, and who could not have known the implications of the tackle while acting in his role as captain of the Storm.
Even more damming was McKinnon's view that the blame that day should have been placed on Smith, and not McLean who made the tackle. Yet a year later it is McLean receiving the legal letter. The sceptic in me wonders why now, of all times?
Sydney Morning Herald columnist and former rugby union player Peter FitzSimons wrote last Monday in strong support of McKinnon's side of the fence, citing the "vitriol" sent McKinnon's way on social media and talkback radio as unwarranted.
"He is not treating the NRL like a friend, but like a multibillion dollar industry that can well afford to compensate him. To all those who so bitterly criticise McKinnon, get a grip," wrote FitzSimons.
For what it is worth, I am firmly on the opposite side of the fence to McKinnon and FitzSimons, but not because I believe the former Knight deserves no compensation, although I do question the validity of his motives. My concern is the dangerous precedent this suit could set if McKinnon successfully sues McLean and/or the NRL.
In this instance the tackle that led to McKinnon's injury was illegal, and so-deemed by the NRL judiciary. But many an injury occurs in legal tackles, and it is here that it becomes an issue.
Regardless of your opinion on the state of the game or the NRL as a "multibillion dollar industry", no industry can survive while the very nature of its product can be used as grounds for a legal case. Rugby league is a contact sport, and while I am not party to an NRL contract I would imagine embedded in one would be an acknowledgement of the risk of injury that goes with it.
If McKinnon is awarded his estimated $20million required to live the rest of his life, what measures will the NRL be forced to take to ensure such a payout does not happen again? Maybe I'm glass half-empty in my sentiments, but I cannot be the only person not interested in a State of Origin touch rugby league series in 2020.
And this is not just an NRL issue, but a concern for all contact sports should McKinnon be successful.