Johnny Watterson A Delicate Game: Brain Injury, Sport and Sacrifice
This week Irish rugby player James Ryan remained sidelined for Leinster Rugby because of concussion. Before that, television footage showed Welsh prop Tomas Francis staggering following a clash of heads with a team-mate. He was removed for a head injury assessment (HIA) that he passed before returning to play.
Critics and welfare group Progressive Rugby said Francis should have been immediately and permanently removed following the collision under World Rugby’s HIA protocol.
Just some of the recent rugby head injuries are the tip of an iceberg across all contact sports from rugby, boxing and football to NFL; concussion is a growing injury and problem. In fact it has become one of the most important issues in sport and despite growing data, resistance to real change is commonplace, although some change has happened.
Dr Willie Stewart, a scientist at the University of Glasgow, points out in Hana Walker-Brown’s A Delicate Game: “Rugby is now recording one injury per match consistently for several years now. That to me is remarkable and unacceptable.”
Walker-Brown begins the book by visiting the daughter of former professional English footballer, Jeff Astle, who choked to death in 2002 as a result of a neurodegenerative disorder caused by heading the ball repeatedly. Astle was diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
Research is ongoing, but a series of sub-concussions, more so than one “big hit”, is being discovered as being equally if not more sinister. The analogy used is driving a car over a large ramp can break the car but driving it many times over smaller ramps can do similar damage.
The book covers Ben Robinson, the 14-year-old who tragically died just over 10 years ago in a Carrickfergus schools rugby match from second impact syndrome to England rugby captain Dylan Hartley who uses the phrase “industrialised brutality” in his aptly named memoir, Meat.
A well-timed and comprehensive publication for all sports men and women or parents who have children engaged in contact sport. Among many things it sends out a core message that the more we understand about head collisions, the more we know they are downright bad for human brains.