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Tuesday Feb 16, 2016

The Long Term Impact of Concussion on Display

The Long Term Impact of Concussion on Display
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Last year former Scotland and British and Irish Lions player John Beattie made a documentary about repeated head injuries in rugby, and how it can lead to long term brain damage. Since that aired he has been contacted by a number of former players, concerned for their current state.

In the harrowing interview above, former Glasgow flanker John Shaw actually has a ‘cut out’ moment on camera, failing to remember what question he was asked.

Below is another snippet, featuring a chat with former SRU team doctor Donald Macleod.

You can watch the full short film via the BBC website (UK only) where Beattie speaks to former players who feel they might be suffering from the long term effects, as well as Macleod, who was SRU team doctor from 1967-1995

18 Comments

  • larry
    4:00 PM 04/03/2016

    You make some excellent points about this issue. I just saw on the BBC website that there is talk of getting rid of tackles in school rugby. Of course that's ridiculous, as it would mean anyone continuing rugby after age 18 would suddenly be in a totally different game environment. Yet I think law could be changed to make the game truly safer. As I suggested in a post above, in bygone decades, concussions usually came from foul play, and that usually occurred in lineouts and mauls or rucks. Getting a head concussion from an open-field tackle was indeed very rare, even if a crash tackle was employed by the tackler. So, what to do? Getting rid of the tackle isn't the way to go. Already in law it is stated that dangerous play needs to be penalized: no "big hits" then. Look at what happened in the recent England v Ireland match when the Irish player was on the ground and this Brown character kicked him. Number one, the law says the ball must be released immediately. Then why are tackled players allowed to use up to two or three seconds to do so? Perhaps immediately needs to mean immediately. Look at old footage on YouTube. Tackled players are indeed releasing immediately, sometimes before even hitting the ground! They're either pushing the ball back or just letting it go, and either the opposition get possession of it, or the tackled player's team. Rucks, let alone mauls, so-called "phase play," wasn't all that common. Certainly flanker-sized and even lock-sized centers and wings weren't common either. The old game may look haphazard to those playing, or in my case, refereeing in the present, but I'm quite certain that concussions were far from being an issue in the game in the 50's or 60's. Final point is that I still maintain that rugby isn't a game of inches in the sense that American football is, except at the goal line, when it does become a game of inches. Are these hard open-field crash tackles really necessary? I don't think so

    Reply
  • larry
    9:01 PM 21/02/2016

    Well, stopping a runner's forward momentum might have merit in close-in play, with supporting players and opposing players near the breakdown, so I do see your point in that regard; but in wide-open spaces in one-on-one tackles, are bone-crushing crash tackles really necessary, to stop the runner dead in his/her tracks? I really don't think so, and in the past those crash tackles were rare, and consider that both runner and tackler are prone to a head injury, from contact with player-on-player, with ground, or even whiplash. I mean taking a runner down to the ground, and losing some territory in the process, isn't going to mean much in open space. The tackled player might be able to get back up and resume running after picking up the ball, or the tackler might be able to do the same, and each will be hoping that someone, or ones, from their team is going to arrive to carry on play in most tackles in the open field. I remember that Sports Illustrated had an article in late March of 1974 covering the Monterey Rugby Tournament. I don't know if that article is on-line, but I do have an old issue, as does anyone from my rugby playing days back then in California. New South Wales Country was on a tour at the time, played and won the tournament. In the article much was made of American players making "gridiron" type tackles on the touring Aussies, but they had no effect on the outcome of the game, as the Aussies were adept at passing the ball off as contact was made, or barely beforehand, to an open player. Those big hits didn't stop anyone in their tracks. There need to be an emphasis on proper tackling with the head behind, not in front. To another extreme, on the exact 180 degree way to tackle with one's safety in mind, I remember reading how Barry John tackled Colin Meads in 1971: let him run past him, then jumped on his back, and eventually even Meads couldn't run too far with 11 stones on him.

    Reply
  • larry
    9:01 PM 21/02/2016

    Well, stopping a runner's forward momentum might have merit in close-in play, with supporting players and opposing players near the breakdown, so I do see your point in that regard; but in wide-open spaces in one-on-one tackles, are bone-crushing crash tackles really necessary, to stop the runner dead in his/her tracks? I really don't think so, and in the past those crash tackles were rare, and consider that both runner and tackler are prone to a head injury, from contact with player-on-player, with ground, or even whiplash. I mean taking a runner down to the ground, and losing some territory in the process, isn't going to mean much in open space. The tackled player might be able to get back up and resume running after picking up the ball, or the tackler might be able to do the same, and each will be hoping that someone, or ones, from their team is going to arrive to carry on play in most tackles in the open field. I remember that Sports Illustrated had an article in late March of 1974 covering the Monterey Rugby Tournament. I don't know if that article is on-line, but I do have an old issue, as does anyone from my rugby playing days back then in California. New South Wales Country was on a tour at the time, played and won the tournament. In the article much was made of American players making "gridiron" type tackles on the touring Aussies, but they had no effect on the outcome of the game, as the Aussies were adept at passing the ball off as contact was made, or barely beforehand, to an open player. Those big hits didn't stop anyone in their tracks. There need to be an emphasis on proper tackling with the head behind, not in front. To another extreme, on the exact 180 degree way to tackle with one's safety in mind, I remember reading how Barry John tackled Colin Meads in 1971: let him run past him, then jumped on his back, and eventually even Meads couldn't run too far with 11 stones on him.

    Reply
  • 10stonenumber10
    1:43 AM 21/02/2016

    That final paragraph is the most important one. You would not believe the pressure put on youth players by both coaches and peers. Sport is the highlight of the week, but you're at school to learn, not be subject to irreparable physical and mental damage.

    Reply
  • drg
    10:41 PM 20/02/2016

    You're totally right regarding the risks, which is why I don't think things should be sugar coated, nor policed out of the game. If this type of impact resulted in a card for Jamie Roberts, people would think "ooh, how dangerous, I'm glad they're making the game safe"... when the game is not safe... it's inherently dangerous. I too found a large step up when I reached senior level, unlike yourself, I had an advantage of height at colts level, height came hand in hand with a certain amount of weight (not great weight), but it allowed me to 'man handle' the opponents whilst more or less being a bit half assed about it (not realising this at the time)... When I hit the senior level and hit that first ruck, I knew then and there I was in a different game. Instead of being a heavy guy on a pitch surrounded by children, I was now a bamboo cane trying to play a game with giants.. I have to admit though, I don't tend to think of the opposition with any kind of fear, I truly believe the days you start to fear, is the days you should hang up your boots - at least in a full contact game. I've had more injuries for cocking about on a training field or having a quiet run out for a lower level team because of the lack of commitment and focus. I think the only way forward for player safety is having the right heads at grass roots level - training people to tackle properly, correctly appointed medical staff, knowledge so that someone that gets a knock on the head isn't just a p***y for not wanting to play next week!

    Reply
  • 10stonenumber10
    1:10 AM 20/02/2016

    It's not just about guys being big nowadays, they have to be big enough to take contact on the defender's terms, and still have their own influence. This is where these guys need credit too, to offload, you need your arms free, meaning you leave your ribs exposed and let the tackler go in underneath your outstretched arms. Boshing people off with your body hurts, if you're willing to put your ribs on the line, it means you can extend an arm and "do a Sonny". I think people need to be more aware of themselves and the opposition. Definitely so at lower levels. I can only speak from my own experiences, but "going up through the ranks" from youth to mens rugby had a very, VERY steep learning curve. U13-U16 is fairly equal, but U18 is a whole different ballgame, 16 and a day is very different to 18 and 11 months. Due to lack of numbers some teams ranged from youth internationals down to 6th XV subs, of course someone was going to get hurt. You only have to be 17 to play men's rugby without special permission, what are you supposed to do against a mid 30s 20st+ ex-con with a tattooed head playing front row for his local pub team? As a sport we need to be aware from day 1 of the risks. To put it blunt, and it is probably an unpopular opinion, but recently I have come to realise... Acting the hero is only worth it if you are pro. You know it might end your career there and then, but unlike amateurs, they will be put back together by the greatest surgeons and medical staff the world has to offer, payouts, and healthy retirement prospects. We get 12 month waiting lists, loss of work, and a couple of nurofen.

    Reply
  • drg
    6:03 PM 19/02/2016

    The thing is Larry, whilst it's not a directly a game of inches, being tackles and falling forward brings forward moment to the attacking side, the player with the ball leads the way and the following support rucks straight over the top never having to check their step. However, stop the guy dead and the support has to check it's step, knock the guy backwards and the support has to take a step backwards and then go forwards, giving the defence the upper hand this time... So stopping someone is more important than you've given it credit. In the game of old where players were less on a level playing field in all aspects there was room for manoeuvre, these days where teams are so much more competitive, it's those tiny things that can be the difference between a win or a loss.

    Reply
  • larry
    3:21 PM 18/02/2016

    I guess it depends on how far back one played the game too, as to whether head concussions are an issue. With professional international, provincial, and club rugby, the stakes are very high for players in recent times. When one looks at those old British Pathe films on YouTube, especially pre 1960, the game looks to be one of fly hacking the ball around much of the time, multi-lineouts, and one wonders how anyone could have gotten injured. I played from 1973 to 1989 more or less, at college and later for a club, and do not remember many players getting concussions. Any playing after that time has been the occasional "veterans" match, or varsity-alumni match, in which anyone getting hurt isn't getting a concussion, but a shoulder separation, or a broken ankle, and that's rare! I see guys I played with and against from time to time, and everyone seems okay for the most part, except other health issues have crept in for some, not rugby related, unless it was from too much partying. Now I've been refereeing for quite a few years, and believe me, even in women's college games, played by 18-23 year olds, I've seen some vicious tackles made, few but often enough, and some head concussions as a result, and I couldn't have blown a penalty on 99% of those very hard made tackles, as there was no launching off the feet and there was arm wrapping. So even young women have gotten into making the huge hits, as though trying to stop a runner dead in her tracks! It really isn't necessary unless on the goal line.

    Reply
  • larry
    3:08 PM 18/02/2016

    I noticed someone posting above about how "losing" five yards in a tackle didn't mean much in the past, but now one has to stop a runner dead in his tracks. That's the mentality of American football, which is a game of inches because a team in possession, making ten yards progress, gets another set of "downs," and keeps possession, keeping the defense on the field longer and longer; and of course at the goal line stopping a runner before reaching the goal line is of utmost importance. In rugby, though, it isn't a game of inches, until the goal line! So, I still see many tackles being made, quite properly, hard tackles even, without a defender stopping a runner dead in his tracks, and giving up a few yards in the process. Runners though, more often than not it seems in recent decades, have gotten into the habit of taking on tacklers head on, not trying to sidestep, swerve, or pass off the ball before contact is made (and yes, a runner setting up that pass perhaps will get hit and knocked down in the process right after the ball leaves the hands). Consider also the somewhat recent change about kicking into touch behind the 22, in which it isn't allowed directly anymore if the kicker received the ball from a team mate outside the 22. That means there's less lineouts, and more running of the ball from behind the 22, when it used to be a given that a kick into touch with the following lineout would occur. I've never seen any concussions in lineouts, with anything like that occurring most likely from foul play, but I've seen plenty of hard-charging tackles made by defenders knocking over backs trying to run out of their own quarter of the pitch since that law change, and the more tackles made in a game, the more possibility of concussion. So, at least with that law change, player safety, in my opinion, hasn't been taken into consideration, only the concern of 'opening' up play more than already existed at the expense of more set play as in a lineout.

    Reply
  • drg
    4:58 PM 17/02/2016

    "half the people i grew up with have issues now though (mostly forwards)" As a forward myself, I can say that we generally have a few issues anyway... that's what got us into being forwards in the first place...

    Reply
  • 10stonenumber10
    2:19 PM 17/02/2016

    mate, i'm lucky, no worse a situation than most amateur boxers... half the people i grew up with have issues now though (mostly forwards), and they have it far worse. I see boxing as the shining example. Professionals are fairly "with it" when the retire, give it 5 years, let the body slow down, and then you see the effects. I've lost count of the number of flat nosed 50-somethings losing track halfway through reflecting on their own careers

    Reply
  • jimmy23
    1:09 PM 17/02/2016

    Wow, sorry to hear that mate. Glad it's getting better but as you say, best not to tempt fate with this sort of thing. It's a scary prospect for todays professional players. Bearing in mind John Shaw was playing during a time when the game was not as powerful (if you catch my drift) as it is today. The impacts are a hell of a lot harder and one only has to wonder what sort of a state the likes of George North and Jonny Sexton will be in when they reach Shaw's age.

    Reply
  • 10stonenumber10
    10:27 AM 17/02/2016

    Dizzy spells after physical exertion, confusion and memory blanks when tired, dehydrated or stressed. I can no longer concentrate to read a book. Driving and physical activities are unaffected, but some days it is very much like Shaw's cut-out moment. Once or twice a month I get crippling migraines at the site of impact. Heading a football leaves me very disorientated. The main difficulties are the worsening of mental health conditions. I always suffered with a mild form of depression, repeated head knocks made it much more severe. The last two had me delicate for weeks, serious mood swings complete lack of any motivation, resilience, or happiness. Forgetfulness is the biggest thing. It seriously affected my studies at school, but as I was one of a field of 200+ lads to choose from, nobody noticed until I started throwing up outside lessons and in the gym. Out cold on a Saturday, play 7s on a Sunday, training outside school Monday, full contact tuesday to friday, and repeat. You don't have to be concussed to be damaged, nor do you need to be a pro to have your career ended. Lots of small knocks build up... skateboarding, rugby, gymnastics, martial arts, backyard stunts, general teenage idiocy all add up. It has got better, but fate is not something to be tempted, binned my gum shield for some astros and playing touch rugby competitively instead, much safer!!!

    Reply
  • drg
    9:55 PM 16/02/2016

    What sort of effects are you suffering as a result may I ask?

    Reply
  • 10stonenumber10
    7:16 PM 16/02/2016

    20 years ago, scragging the bigger man was the order of the day, lose 5yds but drag them down. Now you have to stop them dead in their tracks. Increasing impact speed from both sides increases the force exponentially. After many years of schoolboy rugby, extreme sports and general idiocy, I also suffer from long term effects of concussion. Fortunately not too bad, but noticeable and measurable. I have a friend who played front row who used to get knocked out every other weekend and still be training 2 days later, his temper is now even shorter than his #1 shaved head. It isn't the big kids you need to worry about, at youth level the physical gap is far too big, I am walking proof that this game bloody hurts. Age 13, coaches expected all 4'11'' and 80lbs of me to tackle the bearded 6ft thoroughbreds our school shipped in to try and win the Daily Mail Cup. If they were bigger than the coach, and the coach wouldn't tackle them, how the hell was anyone else my age and size supposed to? It lays down the foundations, take knocks early, you are very delicate in later years. I can only speak from personal experience, so I could well be wrong. Especially concussions during the vital brain development stages of teenage years, where most of these top athletes will have been pushing the hardest and paying least attention to their own wellbeing. Schoolboy rugby shouldn't be life or death, coaches see injuries and head knocks as an irritant rather than the potentially debilitating long term effects.

    Reply
  • drg
    6:42 PM 16/02/2016

    Larry your point regarding players getting bigger and stronger is something I felt was potentially highlighted on the weekend.. I look at some of the players an I believe they are at the maximum limit of weight when you consider that athleticism must also be involved. I look at players like Sean O'Brien..(not the heaviest, nor the only player this applies too but). the bloke just looks like he couldn't physically pack on any more mass, he did a sidestep and he nearly killed himself in the process... Bodies are getting bigger, but the ability to carry the weight usefully has not increased.. If you look at body sizes and shapes over the years (centuries wise) we've become bigger which is generally attributed to better health and diet, however when you pause things at look at around year 2000 and then compare it to now, suddenly we have teenagers the size of James Haskell lumbering onto the rugby pitch...

    Reply
  • larry
    6:24 PM 16/02/2016

    I was just reading an article on a website called LineoutCoach.com, about the "breakdown" and how it should be coached (Richie Gray: How to coach the Breakdown). The article claims that it's at the breakdown where most injuries in the game are occurring in recent times. Though one might claim it's at the tackle where most injuries in rugby have always occurred, it's probably true that these injuries weren't head injuries for the most part in past times. I don't know if anyone created a statistical analysis of rugby injuries decades ago, but when looking at old footage of rugby, when mauls were mauls and rucks were rucks, it seems to me that few injuries were occurring from fair play, unless it was from punches, biting, putting in the boot, or other foul play (think All Black Peter Whiting's punch of Lion Gordon Brown, causing a head concussion, in the 4th test on the Lion's 1971 Tour, or the infamous stamping on JPR Williams during the All Black Tour when they played Bridgend in 1978). Players are much bigger now, much faster, and there are crunching tackles made in open space as well as in closed-down areas near breakdowns, and at breakdowns themselves. Now there's a concussion issue in the game to address. What is ironic is that laws are always changing with player safety in mind, yet are players any safer than pre-1993, when wholesale changes to law were initially made, with the objective goal of "opening" up play and having more tries scored, and having more safety? I think, regarding safety, the game isn't any more safe than before, and even less so. It's also ironic that with less players now involved in rucks, which occur the majority of the time immediately after a tackle, there are more injuries than in the days when forwards actually had to fight for possession with the ball the point of offside, not the rear foot of a player in the ruck, and most or all forwards would get involved in the ruck to win possession.

    Reply
  • drg
    5:25 PM 16/02/2016

    :/ this is concerning....

    Reply


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