NFL Settlement Reactions

Reactions from Rocky Elson after the NFL settlement reach between NFL and 4500 former players.

By Georgina Robinson, Rugby Reporter – The Age.

Mind game: Elsom fears knockout legal action

Former Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom says the ARU could be leaving itself open to an NFL-style class action by following ‘terribly inadequate and dangerous’ protocols around concussion.

The NFL last week reached an $850 million out-of-court settlement on a class action launched by more than 4500 players who alleged the league hid what it knew about the dangers of repeated blows to the head.

Elsom, who played 75 Tests for the Wallabies between 2005 and 2011 and captained the side for two years, said international guidelines set by the International Rugby Board, followed by the ARU, were woefully inadequate and could put the game at risk in Australia.

Rocky Elsom - Image: Ghetty Images
‘It is standard practice that someone who gets concussed doesn’t train for a few days after to protect the brain and reduce the damage and make sure it isn’t aggravated,’ Elsom said.

‘If you think that the person that gets concussed can recover in five minutes and be back out on the field, that doesn’t seem to match up too well and it could cause a fair bit of trouble, for the player most importantly, but also for the sporting body if they don’t change the way they do things.’

The IRB recently extended and tightened a global trial of its Pitchside Suspected Concussion Assessment (PSCA) protocol for a further year, citing a 25 per cent rise in players permanently leaving the pitch as a result of the new testing regime.

The PSCA process is designed to give team doctors enough time to determine whether a player is concussed. As a result of changes implemented by the IRB last month, team medicos will now be able to use video to help assess the impact of the hit, and will have to take into account any balance problems the player has on the field, or whether there is suspicion of a loss of consciousness.

The original PSCA process was used to clear Wallabies breakaway George Smith to play after he was knocked out and helped off the field early in the third British and Irish Lions Test, a move that attracted widespread criticism. It is understood Smith was later diagnosed with concussion and, under the revised protocols, would not have been allowed to return to the field of play.

The revised protocols were used when prop James Slipper took a hit from All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu in the second Bledisloe Test in Wellington a fortnight ago. Slipper was not allowed to go back on the field and had several follow-up tests before being allowed to return to full training this week.

Elsom said he had no faith in the IRB’s existing system and said more caution was needed. ‘I think [clearing players of concussion after a sideline test] is a naive and a very dangerous stance to have. Dangerous for whoever employs the doctor and dangerous for the player to have a doctor that works like that,’ he said.

The IRB’s stance is developed from last year’s Zurich Consensus statement, which is recognised as a leading international forum on sports concussion.

There are dissenting voices, including former Ireland international and respected medico Barry O’Driscoll, who accused the IRB of ‘trivialising concussion’ after resigning from his post as a board medical adviser last year.

‘The five-minute assessment of a player who has demonstrated distinct signs of concussion for 60 to 90 seconds and usually longer, is totally discredited,’ he told Irish broadcaster RTE. ‘There is no scientific, medical or rugby basis for the safety of this process. This experiment, which is employed by no other sport in the world, is returning the player to what is an extremely brutal arena.’

Elsom, based in Narbonne, France, said there was too much medical opinion that ran contrary to the IRB’s stance to keep ignoring calls for tighter protocols. ‘You don’t have to go too far to find doctors who think along the same lines, opinions that say the current measures are terrible, inadequate and quite dangerous for the players,’ he said, adding that the Lions incident involving Smith was damning.

‘There is a big chance George wouldn’t have been allowed to train the day after and yet returning him to the field wasn’t a problem. There are obvious inconsistencies with that. Whatever has happened to George’s brain after that is extremely hard to tell. But if there was any hazardous effects then George is the one that wears that. That’s why the settlement in the US was so large.’

In Australia, the plights of AFL great Greg Williams and NRL player Shaun Valentine, as well as former Wallaby Elton Flatley, have attracted attention. Asked if rugby could head in the same direction as the NFL, Elsom said: ‘If they find that the cognitive tests that the doctors do now are inadequate, then there is only one place to go from there.’

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