By Terry O’Neill.
Gradual improvements in practice continue on concussion issues with the horizon a far distant mirage. It sounds simple: “a temporary unconsciousness or confusion caused by a blow on the head” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary), and from the Latin concutere: to dash together or shake.
The issue’s always with me. Fifteen years ago our younger daughter was squashed and bashed in a vehicle collision and the devastating effects of her serious head injury will be with her, and the family, for the rest of her life. There’s no outward sign of disability, and her good looks mask her debilitating injuries within. She married and gave birth to two sons and fatigue dictates absolute rest daily after lunch with demanding tasks sometimes rescheduled next morning, and also she has to accept outside help with children and housekeeping – for a “normal” life that will never be normal again. Nevertheless, magnificent therapies, and all that love can do, means her confidence still improves and she “has a life”.
Concussion in sport may have additional dimensions.
In an earlier “As I See It” column I quoted Ireland’s Dr Barry O’Driscoll whose strong opinions lead to his resignation as a leading IRB medical advisor because the IRB introduced the controversial brief concussion bin, and this five minutes Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) was later extended
Rugby players’ collisions vary in impact and severity but former All Black James Broadhurst has suffered a nagging headache for six weeks, and consequently, is ruled out of the remainder of the 2015 ITM competition. Broadhurst, a one test All Black, copped a couple of head knocks against Wellington in August and played until halftime. Broadhurst’s plea to players: “Don’t try to tough it out. I took a knock and thought I’d be all right. Two minutes later I copped another one that cost me my ITM season.” Now he wonders if his rugby career is in limbo.
While research continues on concussion after effects, it’s essential to also focus on causes of head knocks. Tackling in rugby needs to be redefined. The growing number of former rugby league players employed as defence coaches introduced the chest high tackle to control or slow ball distribution. This technique increases head to head clashes. Should rugby encourage the redevelopment of “around the legs tackling” with the head safely behind the opponents knees? Should we not examine the style of rugby whereby there are too many mismatches with bigger and heavier forwards consistently used as first receivers against lighter tacklers? Should supervision be more intense at the breakdown where players individually throw themselves head first into the fray?
Tentative moves are afoot whereby rugby tackling above the shoulder can earn a penalty. But wheels of change turn too slow.
Barry O’Driscoll insists the power of television, and the huge commercial influence, highlights the glory of the club, or the team, and not player welfare. Will only a fatality accelerate those wheels of change?
Parents won’t encourage their children to participate in any sport where the well-being of each player is not the paramount concern.