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Head Trauma? Rugby, Motor Racing Step on Up!

August 17th, 2017 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Baseball, Cricket, Football, Motor racing, Rugby, The National

A couple of posts on this blog suggest the National Football League will not exist as we know it — if it exists at all — 20-30 years from now.

By then, all the horrors of football-related brain trauma will have been clearly laid out and, barring some unexpected breakthrough in protective equipment, the lawsuits and the public outcry and the unwillingness of parents to let their children play the game … will eventually bring it down.

However, American football is by no means the worldwide leader in brain injuries. It has to share that distinction (and perhaps even concede primacy to) a couple of other sports with more than their share of violence.

To wit: Rugby and motor racing.

In the past few days information has come across the my transom outlining the significant risks of brain damage in those two sports.

Danica Patrick and her 12 concussions.

Rugby players and their game’s rate of “at least one concussive injury in every senior match”, according to Tim Fletcher, a physiotherapist and former player, who added: “Whether or not that (concussion) is recognized, and the player is removed, is a different story.”

The author of the story in The National, the newspaper I worked for in Abu Dhabi, is Paul Radley, a man who loves rugby and has covered it extensively.

All the same, he is doing a series on “concussion in rugby”. Which is a welcome development in a sport that certainly looks very hard on the brains of everyone who plays it.

Let’s take a break right here and go to the embedded video in this story. It shows a player for the British & Irish Lions getting knocked loopy in a match with New Zealand’s All Blacks — and coming right back into the game after a very brief stop on the sidelines.

The player, Alun Wyn Jones, certainly looks out on his feet.

Wrote Radley: “He left the field for the mandatory concussion test and, to no one’s great surprise, reappeared to fight the Lions’ brave rearguard.

“This was a case of perception being as important as reality. High definition close-ups showed Jones suffering a strike to the head, and appearing dazed and lost thereafter. Yet, a few minutes later, he was permitted back into the fold.”

The commentators on the video seem to approve of Jones rushing back into the match, describing him as the “glue” of the side, noting he “understands the bigger picture” — which was the outcome of the series between the two sides, which hung in the balance.

One of them does concede, in a way that seems to dismiss the risk of further brain trauma — always more dire when one concussion comes on top of another — by saying Jones had received a “bit of a bang.”

A bit of a bang? A bit?

For those of us who are not rabid followers of rugby, know this: It is the manliest sport in what was the British empire, and rugby players are at least as bad as American football players in their instinctive desire to get back in the game despite not being able to see straight.

(Here is a story by Radley on one of those guys who has decided he has to get back in the game, despite a history of concussions, when it seems fairly clear he should not. And inside the story are some interesting statistics about brain injuries in rugby, a sport that in the not-distant past would congratulate itself for the way its players are coached to tackle.)

And then there is motor racing. Driving around at 200 mph and encounters with walls … what could go wrong?

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in Nascar, is retiring after this year because he is concerned about all the concussions he has had — at least four since 2002 — and the symptoms he has experienced.

Earnhardt is 42, and rest assured he is not the only driver who has been concussed. The shock would be finding a driver at the elite levels of racing who has not been concussed a time or 10.

Danica Patrick may not be all that unusual, in terms of brain trauma, when she said in February of this year that she has had at least a dozen concussions.

Commenting on Earnhardt’s looming retirement, she told USA Today: “I’ve had concussions. Every time you crash, you have a concussion on a varying degree. When [Earnhardt] said something about having 12 concussions, I’m like, ‘I’m sure I’ve had 12 concussions.’ … It makes you think for sure.”

Patrick, one of the most popular drivers in the U.S., may have embraced an unhealthy attitude about brain health when she said she “would be out” of racing if a doctor told her brain would be “at risk” with another crash.

And this is after 12 concussions, by her estimate.

If she is worried about her brain, the time to get out is this minute.

So, here we are. It’s not just the NFL. It is just not baseball players or cricket players being hit in the head by a very hard ball.

It is rugby. It is motor racing. It sure as hell is boxing and most other combat sports.

It is good we are talking about this, finally, and, occasionally, doing something about it. But it was a long time coming, and it may be too late for many sports stars from the current era and a healthy brain as they enter the latter stages of their lives.



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