Hugo Lloris incident highlights concussion brain damage fears

After the controversy surrounding Hugo Lloris' head injury at the weekend, Ryan Curtis examines the issue facing sport worldwide

By Ryan Curtis

If you do nothing else this year, then watch The Crash Reel.

For those who don’t know it is a 2013 documentary film by double Oscar nominated film director, London’s Lucy Walker, about a world class snowboarder who almost dies after a crash, and his subsequent battle with the traumatic brain injury that he is left with.

The story about Vermont snowboarder Kevin Pearce or ‘KP’ is truly awe-inspiring and more-so thought provoking. It transcends the sport of snowboarding very much like ‘Senna’ did with motor-racing. Human interest is right at its core.

Here is a guy who was at the top of his sport, battling with, and often beating, the sport’s biggest name Shaun White. He was earning big prize money, had major sponsorship deals and had the world at his feet, but seemed to remain so humble given the fame and fortune thrust upon him.

But as is often the case with sponsors, top-class competition and fans there is a huge pressure. The sport is measured on extremities. How high? How fast? How many rotations? How difficult is the trick?

And with these extending parameters comes more danger.

For Pearce it was slamming face-first into ice from around 40 feet in the air on a 22-foot halfpipe.

All the competitors know there are risks, and the documentary showcases people who had died recently, but as sportsmen they are hard-wired into wanting to be the best and competing, whether they know the risks or just prefer to not think about them.

And it isn’t just extreme sports, which by the very name insinuates a certain risk.

There are worrying similarities with other sports all over the world, where these pressures are leading to more danger for their participants.

Boxing is an obvious one, and huge numbers of fighters have issues from being repeatedly hit in the head. But one would argue that as a boxer you are very aware of these risks, as they are constantly both aiming punches to someone’s head or on the receiving end.

But once again money and pride can force boxers to continue fighting past their best or put themselves in the firing line.

Domestically, the mind goes straight to Michael Watson’s near fatal injury that has debilitated the man. On a global scale, common sense would argue that Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s Disease was not helped by beatings at the end of his career.

These are two of a long list of boxers who have suffered including such names as Joe Frazier, Freddie Roach and Sugar Ray Robinson, and thousands of others.

One of Britain’s finest Barry McGuigan said all the way back in 1988: “Boxing damages your brain; don’t let anyone tell you any different”.

The NFL recently agreed to pay $765million in settlements after a case lasting years was decided yesterday.

A high-profile story in the case was the one of linebacker Junior Seau, who took his own life last year. Many attributed the suicide to his brain injuries from repetitive hits to the head during his football career, with subsequent scans showing definitive signs of brain injuries.

His former team-mate Gary Plummer said that if a player didn’t see stars five times a game they simply aren’t doing their job. Again they wouldn’t admit this for fear of being replaced.

The same risks happen in rugby with five concussions for every 1,000 hours of rugby played.

Rugby are slowly having initiatives, such as the ‘five minute rule’ but the same problems are likely to occur. As in American Football, players are getting bigger, the game is getting faster, and the hits that the fans crave are more powerful than ever.

A former player Nic Berry is helping out research and spoke of the problem and how extreme it can be.

He said: “You would finish games and you wouldn’t remember the score, or how you played.”

The more money in the game at the top level, the more risks will be taken or enforced.

And now, in the UK, the national sport of football has it’s own headlines. Hugo Lloris of Tottenham was controversially not substituted after being knocked out cold on the pitch.

Once again his manager Andre Villas Boas made a judgement call with the game poised at 0-0.

He said: “It was a big knock, but he looked composed and ready to continue.

“Hugo seemed assertive and determined to continue and showed great character and personality. We decided to keep him on based on that. The call always belongs to me.”

But athlete’s careers are short and unless there are rules by the governing bodies to protect what are essentially their products, their products will push it to the limit as their genetic makeup dictates this. Even though it may well end suicidal or debilitating for them.

It seems too much of a risk but as seen in ‘Crash Reel’ they quote an unknown source: “The brave might not live forever, but the cautious never live at all.”

And yet whilst we have athletes who are brave or naive enough to take risks, sponsors encouraging them to take these risks, people prepared to watch them and governing bodies prepared to allow risks, the problem is going to get worse before it gets better. And that must be worrying for all.

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