Head injuries and concussion have always been a worry across certain sports, but in recent times it has become a more alarming problem.
Every weekend brings a new incident, especially with the Six Nations in full flow. Saturday’s game saw Irish scrum half Conor Murray the victim of an incident involving England and Harlequins player Mike Brown.
Brown allegedly stamped on Murray’s head while trying to kick the ball at the base of a ruck. This resulted in the Munster player picking up an eye injury which required eight stitches.
The English full-back has escaped a citing for the incident however. Brown reacted on Twitter, saying that the right decision was made as he went for the ball.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt believes World Rugby needs to examine the increasing number of similar incidents, keeping player safety in mind.
“It’s probably something that even the lawmakers or the officials have to have a bit of a look at regarding player safety, particularly with the head and particularly the eyes, as it was in this incident.”
In a similar incident at the weekend, Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni has been cited for allegedly stamping on Scotland’s Duncan Taylor.
Six Nations organisers confirmed that the 34-year-old will attend a hearing in London tomorrow, and if found guilty may miss the March 12 encounter with Ireland.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand there have been calls to reform rugby’s concussion law after players were forced to play out of position due to the concussion of a team-mate. Ireland out half Johnathan Sexton is also central in the debate, after receiving four documented concussions in recent years.
Since the release of Will Smith’s ‘Concussion’ – a medical film about NFL players suffering from brain damage, there are fears of similar instances in rugby.
“To me, it is our biggest problem injury-wise that we have in sport” Barbara O’Connell from Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABI) said. “This is the first generation of professional rugby players so we are not going to see a lot of the symptoms for a long time. They are coming to us saying they are experiencing personality difficulties, outbursts of temper, having memory problems – they are already talking about some of the symptoms.”
In terms of other sports, the GAA have introduced new procedures for players with suspected concussion.
In a survey conducted by the ABI and Gaelic Players’ Association in 2012, 54 per cent of those surveyed stated they had been concussed in games, while 58 per cent of those continued to play.
Alarmingly, 42 per cent of those who played on had no memory of the rest of the game the incident occurred in.
“People need to realise that concussion symptoms might not occur for 24 hours and therefore players have to be monitored. Just 10 per cent of concussions in sport are from a knockout. The other 90 per cent of concussions can be sustained in any type of blow” said ABI Communications Executive Karen O’Boyle.
Looking to American Football, in January the NFL released its statistics on injuries during the 2015 season. The number of concussions during the 2015 season rose a staggering 58 percent to 182 reported concussions.
Even the National Hockey League, one of the biggest contact sports, reported just 57 concussions during the 2014 season.
Since 2009, over 5,000 former NFL players have sued the organisation for failing to protect them while they were playing. These players suffer from serious brain problems including debilitating headaches and Alzheimer’s. The NFL reached an agreement in 2015 to pay each retired player up to $5 million “for serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma.”
In September 2013, research conducted by Boston University found a disease called CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in the brains of over 96 per cent of former NFL players.
Across the board, concussion and head injuries must be approached with the best available knowledge to help reduce cases like this in future, and also to enhance the game.
By Emma Duffy