The 2015 Will Smith film ‘Concussion’ told the true story of Dr Bennet Omalu’s fight against the NFL in publishing his discovering of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). It wasn’t until December 2009 that the NFL eventually publicly recognised the between concussions sustained in American football and CTE.
11 years on and scientists recently studied the brains of 111 former NFL players, 110 had CTE. Whilst some experts have indicated that there was a large selection bias in this study, with many family members who had suspected their loved of suffering from CTE donating their loved one’s brains for the study, there remains no question that there is an underlying problem in the sport.
It took until 2016 before the first action was successfully taken against the NFL, with some 5,000 former players suing for $1bn with claims that the dangers of repeated head trauma had been hidden from them,
CTE is commonly found in people who have suffered repeated blows to the head and is caused by a build of proteins which can disable neuro-pathways, resulting in memory loss, impaired judgement, confusion and a range of other mental health issues. With this in mind, logic suggests that CTE would be prevalent in Boxers and that it would be a widely discussed topic. It is in fact quite the opposite, when approached many boxers have declined to comment or have been reluctant to talk about anything that might damage the sport in anyway. It sadly does not seem to be an area of focus in comparison to other sports.
In July this year representatives from American Football, Australian Rules, Ice Hockey, Rugby League and Rugby Union met in Dublin to discuss how to best address advice received from a panel of experts earlier this year regarding what is becoming a growing issue in their sports.
In January, World Rugby approved stricter sanctions for ‘high tackles’ around the head and have introduced new concussion rules which eliminates the opportunity for a player to ‘run it off’ after sustaining a concussion. The decision to remove a player from the field of play is made solely by a doctor, the individual must then remain off the field for a minimum of 10 minutes and be cleared to return by the doctor. In a similar move, the NFL have introduced strict sanctions for clubs who do not take their players out of games after sustaining a concussion, with fines starting from $100,000.
Research and science are finally starting to catch up with high impact sports and there appears to be a united front from the governing bodies towards dealing with the issue. Whilst we do not want to remove any of the competitiveness from top level sport, more must be done to protect the athletes putting themselves on the line.