NRL turned back on James’ memory: Wife
THE NRL has been accused of sweeping the death of a young Queensland rugby league player under the rug, after it rejected his devastated family's plea to hold a safety awareness round in his honour.
James Ackerman - a former QRL front-rower for the Sunshine Coast Falcons - died in June 2015 after receiving a shoulder charge from current North Queensland Cowboys player Francis Molo.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Mail, James' widow Saraa Ackerman and his parents Sonya and Michael said they feel ignored, disrespected and forgotten by rugby league's governing body.
"He gave his life to the game and the game isn't willing to give anything back. That hurts," Sonya said.
"We've got nothing against the charities that the NRL does support because they're important and we support them too. But wouldn't you support your own before all of that?"
The family has suggested all teams would wear blue socks - James' favourite colour - as a reminder of what can happen on a footy field.
Emails obtained by The Sunday Mail show the NRL denied the request.
Instead they suggested promoting a charity of the family's choosing on social media.
The league annually hosts a range of specialty rounds for good causes.
This week the NRL promoted its Beanies for Brain Cancer round.
James' father Michael said the league denied their request because the shoulder charge wasn't shown on TV and James' death is easily dismissed as "just a freak accident".
"It seemed like too big of a chore (to host a round in James' honour)," he said.
"It's like the NRL consider it null and void," Saraa said.
"Around the same time as Molo's second shoulder charge ... they contacted us then because there was a lot of media. So they obviously wanted to put the issue to bed," Sonya said.
An internal email from one NRL staff member said: "We can certainly support (the family) with nrl.com social media and ambassadors being the best avenue initially".
The family says it even had to fight to get the league to recognise that James died from a shoulder charge.
The tackle was outlawed in 2013, but send-offs for the offence are rarely enforced.
The NRL said it has recorded fewer shoulder charges this season, but the league would not state why it denied the family their request.
"Player safety has been and will always be a key priority for the game as a whole. The NRL is constantly reviewing its processes around player safety," the statement read.
The impact of James' death has taken a massive toll on her children, Saraa said.
Her six-year-old son, Ollie, wants to emulate his dad and has asked about "going to heaven" to see him.
"We can't even take a family photo because our family isn't complete," Saraa said.
The Ackermans have also criticised the QRL's insurance policy.
Under the current policy, families are entitled to $750,000 if a player is permanently injured and $200,000 if a player dies.
But having lived through such a tragedy, the family believes the policy doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what loved ones need following an on-field incident.
In a statement the QRL said the policy was significantly updated in 2015 and is constantly reviewed.
Despite their emotional pain, the Ackerman children continue to be the family's source of strength.
Sonya says her grandchildren have been her saving grace since her son's death.
"They're definitely our energy. Getting out of bed would be a really hard thing (without them)," she said.
Saraa added: "If I was alone without the kids ... then I would be in a very different place right now - very different. They're the reason I got out of bed every day."