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Diagnosis vs denial: Concussion in Sport specialists challenge sporting culture in support of player safety

The recurring theme throughout the talks at last night’s Concussion in Sport event, hosted by Minster Law at York St John University, was an over reliance on professional sports players to admit symptoms of head injuries and seek help of their own accord. Speakers from multiple occupations, including former RFU player David Jackson, acknowledged that many athletes deny symptoms through fear that they will have to quit the sport they love.

Jackson and other key speakers – Consultant Neuropsychologist Dr Steven Kemp, Sports Injury Management Senior Lecturer Dale Forsdyke and Barrister Craig Moore who is a member of the FA’s Judicial Panel – agreed that educating sportsmen and women about the impact of Concussion in Sport and the symptoms to look out for would foster better understanding, leading to improved player safety in UK sport.
Importantly, that increased awareness could also lead to athletes being better equipped to spot when their team-mates are in danger, according to David Jackson, an ambassador for the brain injury association, Headway. He explained the events surrounding the head injury that led to his retirement from rugby, saying: “I was knocked out; my team-mate said that he was about to laugh at the way I went down, but then I had a seizure.”

The former Nottingham player explained the depression that he suffered as a result of his concussion and resulting retirement, which left him “questioning when things would ever return to normal”. It was that experience that encouraged him to use his perceived negative situation positively to raise awareness around concussion in sport and help younger players.

Better understanding comes from greater information, such as ensuring that sportsmen and women know that the absolute minimum time off from competition should be six days – longer for teenagers – and 80-90% of athletes recover from concussion symptoms in 7-10 days*, as outlined by York St John University’s Dale Forsdyke. Stats like this could potentially combat some of the player fear acknowledged by the speakers, while also acknowledging that premature return to play can have long term effects.
In addition to better education and awareness, the other suggestion raised by Jackson was a review of the rules of major sports to bring them more in line with boxing – a full contact sport that already employs stricter governance, including a ruling that usually means a boxer’s professional career is over if anything suspicious is detected on an MRI scan.

A combination of the two approaches could mean that sportsmen and women are better equipped to understand the dangers posed by head injuries and know what signs to look for to let them know they’re in trouble, while also taking the onus of the decision on whether to return away from them if the medical profession detects evidence that shows it is unsafe.

Many attendees at the fully subscribed event work in medical and healthcare occupations or are involved in sports at amateur level. All seemed to share a hope that better awareness and rules at professional level would cascade down into sports at grassroots level.

Event organiser, Rachel Di Clemente, Senior Manager for Catastrophic Injury at Minster Law said: “We’re delighted to have had a full house for such a great quality debate on the important issue of concussion in sport. Listening to the audience questions and discussions after the debate, it’s clear that the biggest concern that exists for those who attended is around how knowledge and sport in professional practice can transcend down to grassroots.

“As mother to a 13-year-old who plays Hooker for his school rugby team, the impact at this level is obviously of great personal importance to me. Hopefully, the initiative for Minster Law to host this event and open it up to coaches, managers and other people involved in amateur sport is one step in ensuring that vital knowledge sharing happens, leading to improved safety for athletes of all levels and abilities.
Minster Law Catastrophic Injury Solicitor, David Sears added: “This was our first event aimed at promoting debate and awareness around issues that can result in serious injury. Co-hosting with York St John University was an important element because educating sports professionals of the future at a formative stage in their career will help to increase awareness around head injuries and their potential impact.”