Kim Klomp was a legendary Australian rules football player in South Australia. Now he lives with a severe brain injury

It was at the 30th anniversary reunion of North Adelaide Football Club’s premiership team that Kim Klomp decided to reveal a secret he has kept close to his chest for nearly two decades.

Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, Klomp was a legendary Australian rules football player.

He played in one of the top football leagues in the country, the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), and is the former captain of the North Adelaide Roosters.

On the pitch, he was brave, tough and uncompromising. But his brilliant football career came at a price.

Now middle-aged, Klomp suffered from severe depression and suspected that something was seriously wrong with his brain.

At first, he didn’t understand what was going on.

All he knew was that after retirement, life gradually became more difficult.

Kim Klomp never played in the AFL but was champion of South Australia’s top state league.(ABC News: Tony Hill)

It started with small things.

“Even now I have a ringing in my ears. It’s not even the ears.

“I also have a bulldozer noise in the back [of the head].”

Then, while pursuing a successful career in sales, he suddenly quit, deciding instead to work as a security guard as he needed a job with a lighter mental load.

“The most comfortable thing I could do was do security, where I didn’t have to make decisions anymore,” he said.

Concussions treated “like a cramp”

Kim Klomp sat at the Strathmore Hotel in central Adelaide with his former teammates as they shared old war stories of their time playing footy.

It was Klomp’s turn to speak, and he was forced to reveal his secret – that he attempted suicide because he believed he had a brain injury related to the multiple concussions he suffered during his sporting career.

“Inside I just felt the need to let it go [the secret] come on, he said.

“When I did it, it felt like the world fell on my shoulders.”

Danny Frawley wears a Richmond hat as he addresses the media in 2001.
Danny Frawley was suffering from CTE at the time of his death.(AAP: Dave Hunt, file photo)

He compared himself to former AFL player Danny Frawley, who died by suicide in 2019.

A post-mortem examination confirmed that Frawley had CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“If I hadn’t wanted to have that call for help, it would have been me. [who died].”

In his time, little was known about the devastating impact of blows to the head.

“You get rid of the cramp, you carry on.

“No one even cared about it. It wasn’t an injury at the time.”

Klomp vividly recalled the immediate effects of a concussion.

“We would go on a bus to meet the opposing teams, and on the way back, I would start to get tingling in my hands and feel a little weird, then I would start throwing up,” he said.

Experts argue for a four-week recovery period

Over the past decade, researchers have focused on the link between repeated concussions and the development of the fatal brain disease CTE.

As a result, today the AFL treats concussion injuries very differently.

The rules state that any player recovering from a concussion must spend a minimum of 12 days away from the game.

Neurologist Dr Rowena Mobbs is a concussion expert at Macquarie University.

She says the mandatory rest period is a step in the right direction, but she worries that 12 days off is not long enough.

She says it should be extended to 28 days.

Macquarie University's Dr Rowena Mobbs studies concussions
Dr Rowena Mobbs says football codes should take a conservative approach to concussions.(ABC News: Michael Nudl)

“I commend the AFL and other football codes for extending the time players take to rest and recover,” Dr Mobbs said.

“But the science points to possibly longer downtimes and takes a conservative approach.

Dr. Rowena Mobbs also warned that the AFL needs to be more receptive to any new research into the harmful effects of concussions.

“I think there will be a judgment call if we see the AFL and others maintaining a closed approach on this issue,” Dr Mobbs said.

Neuroscientist Alan Pearce agreed. He assessed the brains of several former players and diagnosed them with CTE.

He added that lower level players are just as susceptible to the disease as top level athletes.

Man wearing dark shirt sitting in interview.
Associate Professor at La Trobe University, Alan Pearce says the problem of concussions extends far beyond the biggest arenas in the country.(ABC News)

“It doesn’t matter if they play D-Grade or they play AFL. A head shot is a head shot.”

Dr Pearce also questioned the evidence on which the AFL based its 12-day concussion policy.

“It was discussed that 12 days was decided based on a body of evidence, but many of my colleagues don’t know what it is,” he said.

In a statement at 7:30 a.m., the AFL defended its policy, saying it “was not aware of any reputable science or ‘evidence’ that a specific period of absence offers such certainty or guarantee of safety.” .

He also clarified that the “compulsory rest period of 12 days is a minimum period”, noting that when a player returns to football it ultimately depends on the “clinical judgment of the AFL club’s accredited doctors”. and “nothing in the guidelines obliges a doctor to discharge a player in contact after only 12 days”.

The AFL also stressed that “protecting the health and well-being of everyone who participates in our game is the highest priority for the AFL and we take concussions and the protection of brain health of everyone who plays our game.”

The wider impact

Investigative journalist Michael Warner recently wrote an award-winning book on the AFL called The Boys’ Club.

He fears the AFL did not consider the big picture.

“The problem I see for the AFL, Australian rules as code, is what about the lower levels of the game – the suburban levels, the junior levels? Where will the game be in 50 years? And I think the answer to that is, ‘In a very different place.'”

He also predicted that the league could be held liable for past injuries sustained by former players.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that somewhere down the track the AFL will have to pay big money – tens of millions, if not more – to former players who suffered blows to the head.” , did he declare.

AFL sign outside the stadium.
Michael Warner predicts the AFL could be held responsible for concussions suffered by former players.(ABC News: Karen Percy)

Back in Adelaide, Kim Klomp is just grateful for her family’s support.

He said his teammates have also been supporting him since he revealed he suffered from a brain injury.

“At the end of the day, what helped me the most was a beautiful wife who stayed by my side, and we have a beautiful dog that we got from the RSPCA three years ago,” says- he.

“They were my lifeline. Without them, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Klomp is in a unique position. Because he has never played Australian rules football at the top level, the AFL, he is exempt from any future payments to former players.

He said neither the SANFL nor the AFL have contacted him to offer their support – but all he wants is for today’s athletes to be spared the pain he has suffered.

“Anything that can be done for your brain, as soon as it happens, people will be better off for it.”

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