Kemp: Concussion issue is bleeding obvious

TONY KEMP
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014

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OPINION: I remember it like it was yesterday, which is saying something because there are many things from my league career I have trouble recalling.

On one particularly fateful day at training when I was a young professional, plying my trade for the Newcastle Knights, I went crashing headfirst into the goal-post at full pace. And, remember, these were the days when they didn't have any padding on them!

The collision was bad enough to knock me out and also serious enough for training to be called off.

When I came to, I drove myself to the club doctor to get my sore head looked at.

By the time I got there, my field of vision was starting to narrow and before long I couldn't see at all.

It was a terrifying experience but, thankfully, the doctor told me I'd be fine, slipped me a couple of Panadol tablets and told me to head home.

Still, I knew something wasn't right. I knew I'd suffered a concussion and I asked my partner at the time to help me stay awake - the conventional wisdom being that you shouldn't sleep after a head knock in case you don't wake up.

Two days later, I was good to go and despite been loaded up on painkillers to numb my fractured kneecap, I took my place in the starting line-up against the North Sydney Bears.

I didn't give it a second thought. Nobody did. How I wish I knew then what I know now.

But, hey, that was the tough-guy culture in league at the time and nobody really understood the dangers associated with concussion, both short-term and long-term.

Players were once treated like pieces of meat. We were there to entertain. We were commodities. Our well-being was not particularly high on the priority list.

Thankfully, times have changed and the NRL is taking proactive steps to protect its athletes.

I think the initiatives such as pulling players from the field immediately if they are suspected of having a concussion and getting them to sit out games are steps in the right direction.

But are they enough?

Given what we know in this day and age, professional players are better informed and understand the dangers associated with head trauma.

But it doesn't really help those of us who played in a different era.

I don't know whether it's as a result of my league career but I undoubtedly struggle some times with my memory. Was it all those head knocks that have battered my brain around? Or is it just hereditary?

The truthful answer is that I really don't know.

What I can tell you, however, is that for probably 80 per cent of the time I was on a football field, I was seeing stars - one of the symptoms of concussion.

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And I wasn't alone. That was, I hasten to say, the nature of the contact sport I played in the 1980s and early ‘90s.

Last week, former Manly hard man Ian Roberts revealed in an interview that he had been diagnosed with brain damage he felt had been sustained over the course of his career.

As a former player, that's a scary thing to hear indeed.

All of a sudden, I'm starting to ask myself whether I need to get my own head checked.

Roberts talked about suffering from depression and having memory loss. I know of other players - guys I stood shoulder to shoulder with in the trenches - who could certainly relate to him.

I mean, any Kiwi league fan will recall with a sense of awe how former international Dean Lonergan was knocked out during a test in 1991, convulsed on the ground, and then returned to the field not long after because he was worried about losing his place in the team.

It would never happen these days. But in our day, it did. We didn't know any better

Of course, many people will say that league is a contact sport and that head knocks are part and parcel of the game.

But nothing is worth risking your long-term health for.

The good thing is that the NRL is moving in the right direction. The sport's bosses have banned the shoulder charge, are testing players religiously and raising awareness about the issue.

What they could do better is look after their former players.

For starters, the organisation should set up a fund which allows anyone who played even a minute of first-grade to go to the hospital and have a brain scan done for free.

It's not much but for many it would help us understand quite what we are dealing with here.

Paid by the NRL or not, I know I'm going to get a check-up. I have Roberts to thank for the wake-up call.

- Sunday News

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