If you grew up in the UK, and were encouraged to play a competitive sport from a young age, then you have probably come across the ‘walk it off’ attitude towards injuries before.
You may well have had (or still have) that attitude yourself.
It’s part of our culture – to shrug off injuries through pride, passion and fear of letting your opponents know you’re hurt; in many ways, it’s an admirable defiance to have.
But there’s a line, particularly when it comes to head injuries.
For me, that line was well and truly crossed in the case of Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris, which is worth briefly recapping here …
Hugo Lloris was playing in goal for Spurs last November, when 16 stone Everton striker Romelu Lukaku accidentally kneed the Frenchman in the head (while running at such a pace that his own knee needed medical treatment). Lloris was seen by medical staff and his manager at the time, Andre-Villas Boas. The keeper insisted that he was okay to play on and his boss allowed him to do so, despite having a fit replacement in the form of Brad Friedel available on the substitute bench.
This is a prime example of a player having that resilient attitude towards injury and given that Lloris was 99% likely to have suffered a concussion from the impact1, it’s easy to forgive him for wanting to play on in a crucial game for his club.
It’s harder to forgive those who allowed him to stay on the pitch – especially when taking into consideration the delayed dangers of concussion…
Concussion-Related Tragedies in Sport
Without digging too deep into the details, here’s just a short list of tragic head injury cases across a variety of sports:
- Ben Robinson, a 14 year-old from Carrickfergus, died on January 29, 2011, after playing on in a school rugby match despite suffering a head injury in the second-half. He collapsed and subsequently passed away, just a minute from full-time in the game2
- Six years ago in September 2008, high school American footballer Jaquan Waller, experienced headaches and balance issues after making a tackle in a game. Two days later, he was back on the field for another match, in which he was hit by what others have described as a ‘relatively low intensity’ tackle. He was declared dead within 60 minutes3
- Phantom weight boxer Francisco Leal was knocked out in the eighth round of a professional bout, only to never regain consciousness. He died four days after the fight4
For the sake of keeping this post from becoming too morbid, I think it’s a good idea to stop listing the tragedies there.
What each of the stories tells us is that concussive injuries can very easily occur and very easily lead to death.
When you suffer from a whack on the head, the concussion is usually at the opposite side of your head to which the impact came from, as the shockwaves ripple through the brain until hitting the skull.5
In some cases, the brain can rapidly swell up due to second impact syndrome (SIS). This is where a previous head injury has yet to fully heal and so the second impact, of almost any force, causes a fatal reaction in the brain.
Ben Robinson’s case above was reported as the first SIS incident in the UK. Jaquan Waller’s death was also recorded as a case of SIS.
The saddest part about those deaths is that they may have been avoidable if the athletes (or those around them) were more aware of the dangers relating to condition. Plus, they are unnervingly similar to the case of Hugo Lloris (who, thankfully, appears to be fully fit and showing no signs of brain damage today).
As for Francisco Leal, his death tragically adds to a long list of boxers who’ve been killed by brain damage.
In the early 1980s, Korean boxer Duk-Koo-Kim suffered a similar fate to Francisco – and it’s well-understood that the sport is unavoidably dangerous.
One female boxer by the name of Becky Zerlentes was killed in the ring during a 2005 bout, despite wearing a head guard. It was recorded as death by blunt force trauma to the head.
Those fortunate enough to survive, can still suffer from serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Some, go on to die later in life – brothers Jerry and Mike Quarry both died before the age of 60 due to fatal cases of pugilistic dementia, believed to be caused by head trauma during their boxing careers.
This relates to a recent study that suggests traumatic brain injuries similar to the one sustained by Michael Schumacher, increase the likelihood of premature death by 300%.
What can we do?
Certain rules are put in place to enhance player protection in sport.
But from an awareness perspective, more ought to be done in order to prevent further cases (especially at a grassroots level) like those listed above.
John Spencer, the Director of my law firm, has raised a similar call for preventative attitudes:
“We must remain vigilant and astute to the dangers of ‘getting on with it’; so too must we keep a watchful eye on medical developments in this complex area. And, looking across the pond, we could sensibly take a leaf out of Paul Allen’s book – at the same time as hoping that British sportspeople don’t find themselves forced to take class actions to achieve recompense for traumatic head injuries.”
He’s referring to Paul Allen, the Seattle Seahawks owner who just invested $2.37 million into brain injury research.
Understandably, we can’t all take the same approach. But what we can do is educate ourselves and our children, about the dangers of concussion in sports.
With regard to professional sportspeople, I’d argue it is up to them to set an example to our youngsters by treating head injuries with as much caution as they deserve.
On the flipside, I’d also argue that any players (usually footballers) who exaggerate head injuries need to stop that behaviour immediately … before they inadvertently create a boy-who-cried-wolf situation and we start to see referees dangerously treating concussion claims with scepticism.
If any part of this post has struck a chord with you and you have something to say, please let me know what’s on your mind in the comments below.
*This post was written by Louisa Chambers. She is a Solicitor and Chartered Legal Executive within Spencers Solicitors catastrophic injury team. Louisa deals primarily with complex cases that involve head injuries and traumatic brain damage.