Protective gear for AFLW

By Robert Muir

A women’s chest guard may become standard issue to AFLW next season and extend into local football.

Two national female stars, Ebony Antonio and Sabrina Frederick have raised the subject of breast injuries and the need for a protective garment to become the norm.

Fremantle’s All-Australian Antonio received a nasty elbow to one of her breasts two seasons ago which initially came out in a bruise and later a more ominous lump.

Antonio experienced a traumatic wait for test results because of a family history of breast cancer.

Fortunately that wasn’t the case. The lump was diagnosed as a football-related injury but she approached AFL great Brad Johnson after discovering a post on Instagram that he was involved in producing a protective garment. 

Antonio wears the ‘Zena’ breast garment and has asked the AFL to make the breast garment developed by Donna and Brad Johnson standard issue for all players.

“It’s not something you want to go through as a 26-year-old thinking potentially I could have breast cancer,” she said in a recent interview.

“Girls are very funny in talking about it…you just never know what could happen if you find lumps.” 

Frederick, Richmond’s All-Australian also wears the breast guard and said it has made a massive difference to her confidence.

“I came from a karate background and we always had chest guards. It was strange to go into a sport that is so physical like AFL and have no protection whatsoever,” she said.

Donna compared the range of protective equipment available for her son to the lack of equivalent options for young girls. 

Being worried about the lack of protective equipment for women footballers, she developed the Zena pad.

“One of the biggest things has been just normalizing the conversation around it,” she said.

“When we go to clubs, we just really try to make it light and encourage all coaches to come in, males included.”

Johnson holds the record number of games with the Western Bulldogs, with 364 games, and was a team captain and state representative. He has chatted with Murray Felines coach, fellow Footscray footballer Brad Nicholson.

“I think it will take off,” Nicholson told the Free Press.

“We already have one girl wearing one and she feels very comfortable, very protected.

“It helps to protect the chest and rib areas and quite a few of the Murray Bushrangers wear them.”