There were two contrasting articles in the media today – both relating to head injuries.
The first is a truly shocking report about American Football –
A study of American football players’ brains has found that 99% of professional NFL athletes tested had a disease associated with head injuries.
The report published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association studied 202 deceased players – 111 of them from the NFL.
All but one former National Football League player were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The statistic is scary – and these blokes wear helmets!
In New Zealand Gregor Paul had a slightly different view regarding how referees are dealing with ‘head hits’ –
With the latest research out of the NFL showing yet more alarming figures about the extent of brain injuries suffered by former players, rugby has to continue its vigilance in protecting the heads of all those who play.
But it must also ask whether it is willing to destroy the game – certainly cripple the essence of it – by making blanket rulings about all collisions where someone’s head is impacted.
It’s a difficult line to tread, but what choice does the game have because the way things are heading, rugby is almost untenable.
Referees and more importantly TMOs seem to be terrified to apply common sense or any leniency in their adjudication of collisions in which the tackler makes any kind of contact with the tackled player’s head.
I think Paul is a good rugby writer, but I believe here he is missing the point. He wants more sympathetic policing if head contact is not deemed to be reckless or is accidental and thinks officials are penalising unintentional hits wrongly.
The fact is this needs a scorched earth policy if it is to work – it is right to penalise and possibly card all contact with the head – reckless or accidental.
Only that way will coaches and players realise that you have to avoid any contact with the head and will, in time, adjust how they tackle.
It is no good to use ‘it wasn’t meant’ as a defence – players have to learn that it will be penalised anyway. Only then will they make sure that they avoid head collisions.