The concussion sustained by Tottenham Hotspur’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in their 0-0 draw against Everton last weekend has once again brought the treatment of head injuries in sport into the limelight. Having stayed down for nearly a minute receiving treatment before leaving the pitch, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas opted to send Lloris back on, against the advice of the physio. “Hugo seemed assertive and determined to continue and showed great character and personality. We decided to keep him on based on that,” claimed Villas-Boas at the post-match press conference. Villas-Boas has been heavily criticised in the aftermath of this incident, many, including Brain injury charities and footballing unions, criticising Villa-Boas of being irresponsible and of a cavalier attitude.
The danger of concussion, particularly repeated concussions, is evident for all to see. In August this year, the NFL settled a pay out of an incredible $765 million to 18,000 former players for medical care relating to head injuries sustained during their time in American football. American football legend Brett Favre recently talked about having scary memory lapses related to his 20 years playing as a quarterback in the league.
Muhammad Ali is another example of the effect of Post Concussion Syndrome, or Brain Trauma Injury. Suffering from Parkinson’s, the repeated blows to the head from a career as a heavyweight boxer have left Ali as a shadow of the imposing figure he once was. The tragic effects of PCS can even be seen in the WWE. Chris Benoit, a former wrestler who shot his wife and son before turning the gun on himself, was known to have mental problems which developed as a result of his signature move, involving diving headfirst onto an opponent off the top of the turnbuckle. It was even thought that due to the impact, Benoit would be concussing himself nearly every time the move was performed, often once or twice a week.
It is easy to forget nowadays that the wellbeing of the individuals taking part in sport are more important than winning or losing, which in the grander context is essentially irrelevant. Sport stars have become commodities of the clubs or organisations they represent. A career in sport makes up a minimal amount of an athletes life. With the effects of concussion so well-known, the clubs have a duty to protect their athletes and to ensure that their well being remains not only during their playing career, but also in the years following it.
However, with new data and findings into the effects of concussion, the rules are changing. The NFL has however taken important steps to combat the risks of concussion, including rule changes to outlaw helmet on helmet contact, major investments in independent medical research, improved medical protocols and benefits, as well as innovative partnerships with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. CT scans are now also commonplace in many sports following brain injuries.
Bearing all this in mind, it is therefore highly irresponsible of football to not take the players’ welfare more seriously. Although there will almost without doubt be a change in the rules, the FA guidelines currently recommend that a player with a concussion should leave the field of play, not that they should. In order to avoid problems like those which other athletes face, football and sport across the board needs to take a much tougher stance towards the treatment of concussion, as the dangers are there for all to see. Sport is about the celebration of success; it is hard to argue that someone has succeeded if they suffer for their sport for the remainder of their life thereafter.