James Broadhurst Concussion Related Early Retirement Hits Home

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WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 09: James Broadhurst of the Hurricanes attempts to break the Sharks defence during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Sharks at Westpac Stadium on May 9, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

With the James Broadhurst concussion-related early retirement news circulating throughout the rugby world, the message is now beginning to ‘hit home’. Your health is the primary concern. And many are applauding the players decision of welfare before career or financial aspirations.

An impressive and hard working lock, ‘Broady had established a fine provincial and Super Rugby career. His 71 games in the Hurricanes’ colours are testament to a versatile and robust player. He would often be commended for his head down, arse-up attitude. Sadly, that body position would ultimately lead to his head getting in positions that would compound a number of concussions.

As a result, James Broadhurst; a single test All Black, and at just 29 years of age has sadly had his playing career cut-short. After listening to medical advice and after a prolonged period on the sidelines, he announced on Friday that he would be putting his family and personal welfare ahead of his rugby career.

James Broadhurst Concussion Related Early Retirement Hits Home

The subject matter and human impact are very personal. Medical evidence is in it’s early years, so the treatment and recovery process are something that is yet to be fully refined. What is known about the cause is self apparent: rugby is a physical game. The collision-point often leads to bodies and ‘far too often’ with heads colliding. Repeated incidents, and continued heavy impact all lead to the same outcome; concussion and damage to the brain and/or spinal column.

The announcement by Broadhurst is not on it’s own a benchmark decision. Many, many others have all taken the same difficult decision to end their playing careers. In fact, every country/region/province and club will have the names of men and women who must have all been given the same horrible and tortuous dilemma.

What is being commended is that the topic is out in the open. This is due to recent incidents for men like Charlie Ngatai and George North, plus the introduction of the HIA (Head Injury Assessment protocols). All moves that have highlighted the outcome, although there are still far too many occurrences and every rugby fan wishes for those numbers to be reduced.

Player Welfare Before Career

So many have had long-term issues with concussion-related injuries. A topic that has been around for as long as men and women ‘picked up the ball, and ran with it’. That moment in sport changed the contest, and it has been a physical one ever since. The impact we see today is now dramatically increased, but the effects have been felt for a long time.

Players in New Zealand struck down recently include Steve Devine, Leon McDonald, Craig Clark and; similarly to Broadhurst, Ben Afeaki. His story was of the same symptoms: headache, loss of co-ordination, a loss of balance and sensitivity to contact. In a sport like rugby, the knocks taken are cumulative. So any hesitation to taking contact that can bring on headaches or other symptoms, must be a concern and lead to decisions to take early retirement.

Ben Afeaki of the Chiefs shows a head cut during the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs at AMI Stadium on February 21, 2014 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

Hurricanes Head Coach Commends Players Decision

Chris Boyd faced the media on the day that Broadhurst announced his decision. Respect must be taken for such a life altering decision [the player did not wish to face the public appearance]. The player’s coach was the first to outwardly commend his decision. “He desperately wanted to have another crack at it,” Boyd told Newshub.

“At the end of the day I think he came to the conclusion that the last bit of fog was not going away.

“After a long and hard battle he has realized there is life at the other end of the rugby tunnel.”

Boyd and team mate Ben May communicated that such a difficult decision from James Broadhurst had to be respected. The Hurricanes franchise are currently dealing with multiple injuries, including concussion concerns for midfield back Matt Proctor and prop Reggie Goodes.

Repeated Concussion Injuries an Issue for all Super Rugby Sides

The timeline of repeated incidents for Broadhurst in late 2015 may be the catalyst for this most recent concussion-related retirement. Multiple instances over a first grade career going back to 2006 can only illustrate the common risks today. From All Black team mates Richie McCaw to Kieran Read, to Wallaby Michael Hooper and Wales winger George North. Any player is susceptible to this career threatening injury, and the organizations supporting them to take it seriously.

And player management on their return to the game are also important factors. Charlie Ngatai has now just played his third match, after nearly a year away from the game. He talked on his trauma and recovery to RadioSport yesterday;

This concern; like Ngatai and Boyd have expressed, is being promoted by World Rugby as well as by New Zealand Rugby. New measures introduced recently include the Blue Card. This is a tool that the referees can use that can indicate a player’s welfare is at risk during a game. So at club, school and junior level, the focus is now increasing on prevention. Once identified, post-incident approved protocols toward recovery are then monitored. Player education is primary, in the success of such measures.

Berlin Consensus Statement Released by World Rugby

Recent news from the governing body [World Rugby] demonstrates how important this subject is becoming. It has been brought about by leading rugby union physicians, who joined the IOC, FIFA, IIHF and FEI and eminent independent medical experts to participate in the Berlin International Consensus Conference on concussion in sport, last October.

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Martin Raftery spoke in an media statement “Guided by the concussion consensus statements, rugby has developed a framework that is protecting and supporting players in this priority area.

“Our approach has been in step with the recommendations of previous consensus statements. The Berlin statement confirms that rugby continues to be aligned with best-practice. Incorporating an evidence-based approach to concussion education, prevention, management and research.”

These continuing improvements in the recognition and risk management of concussion will only lead to more focus on the subject. Identifying those who have suffered, and on preventative measures. Welfare is crucial post-incident, so in Broadhurst and Ngati’s case, the treatment. For Ngatai, ongoing recovery and return to full-contact rugby should be controlled and monitored. Consistently demonstrated measures applied within New Zealand Rugby, Super Rugby and all forms of the game, should take steps towards change, and increased awareness.

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Last Word on Rugby commend the actions of the player [Broadhurst] and for the positive response it has received across sports media, and within NZ rugby. We wish him all the best in his endeavors, and ultimately full recovery. 
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