Time to address concussion in sport


The deaths of two young rugby players just a few days apart will bring into crystal clear focus the very high risk in certain types of sport of concussion. For the first time players and media commentators seem to be starting to accept that it is time to stop beating about the bush, and accept that the cons of a head knock during a match far out weigh the pros. But even as the evidence and concern has continued to to grow that there is a crisis, in that the sporting bodies, the administrators are trying to depict more immediate problems in the form of meeting corporate priorities, least that they suddenly find themselves suffering a knock of another sort.

Rugby and rugby league have always been high risk collision sports where physical human contact is integral to the game. Both have rules about how to deal with high and poorly executed tackles where the head part of the spinal system may suffer concussive type knocks.

Contrast with the National Football League in the United States where dollars seem to be more important than the well being of players in the long term. The pressure to get players that can change a match to go back on the field when they are still suffering symptoms has been the subject of numerous documentaries and a movie. Coaching a football team of young men who have a macho attitude is considered to be a major honour without really thinking about how these people will fair when they retire continues to challenge American sporting authorities. It also challenges the medical practitioners, the families who have to watch their loved ones deal with the effects of brain damage or damage to the spinal cord caused by a heavy knock or knocks. It affects their potential job prospects because the damage might mean that the brain tires more quickly or is not able to deal with complex matters as easily as a healthy brain not subject to such issues might.

But whilst New Zealand might seem to be making progress when rugby and league are compared to the N.F.L. competition there is no doubt that we have some way to go in addressing the issues they present.

In fact it is long since time to take this to the next level and institute a concussion programme for anyone playing sport where there is the potential for concussion. Netball, rugby, cricket – all need to come on board. Who can forget the Australian batsman who fell down dead after being struck by a bouncer a couple of years ago? Horrific, totally unintentional yet, thanks to the design of the helmet an act that would have been lethal quite quickly Phil Hughes suffered what would have become very severe bleeding of one of the most important arteries in his body, which would have put quick and massive pressure on his brain.

What about net ballers misjudging a high intercept and occasionally colliding mid air? It has probably happened. I cannot recall any major incidents where anyone went off with concussion, but certainly watching their charges in playing, team coaches and physicians have probably wondered

Of course we should enjoy our sport and the more people who get involved the better for everyone well. The more who enjoy a good netball or rugby match, or whatever – all the better – but lets try to keep the injury toll down. I do not think after all there is a single person who would argue that two deaths from concussion related issues is two too many.

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