The meeting comes as two Sydney law firms launch a class action against the NRL and principal lawyer Greg Griffins from Griffins Lawyers said similar action against the AFL was “imminent”.
However, Jess is encouraging players to view litigation as a “last resort”, instead promoting an out-of-court settlement process.
“Without fear or favour, the minute that sports and courts collide is always a negative.
“You only have to look at the Essendon drug scandal to see the outcome where the lawyers were paid significantly more than the players, that’s not right.”
The debate around the long-term impacts of concussion in sport has resurfaced following the scientific breakthrough that found two NRL players developed CTE, a degenerative brain disorder linked to permanent behavioural issues and other conditions, including dementia.
“The tipping point came with that study. Up until now, people have been saying the games are different to what was in the US, so the likelihood of CTE was very limited.
“Clearly the fallacy there is the brain doesn’t know what game it’s playing, all it knows is it’s being belted.”
Jess has self-funded research and legal consultation over the past five years to a cost he estimates to be in the hundreds of thousands after seeing the impact of neurological damage suffered by players he represents, a cohort of around 100 current and former players, including high-profile figures such as John Platten, Shaun Smith and John Barnes.
“These guys are living proof that the [impacts of concussion] are not transitory. It does not go away.”
Jess is confident the AFL will approach the meeting in good faith and work to achieve a fair outcome.
“They [the AFL] have been getting conflicting advice from the people they’re dealing with. They now realise the medicine and science are incontrovertible and they are stepping up to be a good corporate citizen and deal with it in a very sensible way.
“I’m of the belief that the AFL is determined to have good faith negotiations to have a proper settlement path to solve these issues.”
Jess sent a letter to AFL chairman Richard Goyder in February to express his desire for an insurance scheme for AFL players to compensate former players who suffer from brain injuries they allege arose as a result of concussion and head trauma experienced throughout their careers.
“We are the only first world country that does not have a workers’ compensation scheme for its professional and semi-professional players,” Jess wrote.
That letter went unanswered, but the heightened attention has prompted the AFL to set up the latest meeting.
“This hopefully will be the blueprint for all the sports. Rather than make this a lawyers-fest again we can focus the best minds to work collectively to solve this problem because it’s not going away.”
The AFL has been contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.
Charlotte is a reporter for The Age.