Is The NRL Too Scared To Fine A Club For Breaching Concussion Rules?

Dr Jack Kazanjian at 2010 Atlantic Cup in Jacksonville
Dr Jack Kazanjian at 2010 Atlantic Cup in Jacksonville

WHEN it comes to doctors, “viral” usually has a more traditional meaning. But over the last month, a video dossier has gone viral – in the modern sense – among medics at NRL clubs.
It shows South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds being administered smelling salts in two matches, against Sydney Roosters and the Warriors, George Burgess apparently receiving the same treatment against Gold Coast, Issac Luke’s head jolting back when tackled against Manly and Greg Inglis being knocked out against the Warriors.
Comments from Inglis regarding his lack of memory of the Perth clash with the Aucklanders are also referenced.
The dossier forms a case other doctors believe they have against the Rabbitohs, who they say aren’t following concussion guidelines and may even be gaining a competitive advantage from it.
Ron Muratore, the NRL’s chief medical officer, knows about the dossier. He has passed on concerns to the NRL. But very little seems to have happened.
“We’ve been in discussions with a number of clubs, including South Sydney, over a number of issues this year,” said Nathan McGuirk, the NRL’s general manager of operations.
“We are comfortable with the processes that have been followed.”
Asked if he wanted to reveal what action that was, McGuirk said: “Not particularly. We’re satisfied with what has happened.”
Asked if the action was ongoing, McGuirk said: “Our dialogue with South Sydney over this has reached its conclusion.”
The concern from many is that if the NRL fines a club over breaking concussion guidelines, it could form the legal basis of the sort of class action that has just happened in the NFL. And that would bankrupt the game.
But rules with no teeth are less likely to be observed; so player safety is the casualty.
Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson says there’s nothing underhand going on at Redfern. “Troy (Thompson, performance manager) says he’s been using smelling salts for years,” he says.
“Now we’ve been told we can’t use them, we won’t. It’s like caffeine tablets – once upon a time you couldn’t have caffeine in your system, now you can take those tablets before games.
“We stood down Issac Luke when he was concussed last year. Maybe someone wanted us breached. No-one brought it up with us. No, we weren’t fined.”
In November 2010, English referee Phil Bentham was outraged when an American doctor, Jack Kazanjian, ran onto the field and demanded an international be stopped until a concussed player left the field.
Dr Kazanjian, who hopes to be the United States team doctor at this year’s World Cup, had seen Jamaican hooker Jamaine Wray stumbling after a heavy hit and wanted him ordered off.
While many NRL and Super League doctors have worked behind the scenes to better protect players from the long- and short-term effects of head knocks, the American will be remembered for taking a singularly dramatic and militant stance
“I was ridiculed,” Kazajian tells League Week when we track him down in his Philadelphia surgery.
“I was made to feel like I was some American bozo who was hyper vigilant and wasn’t up with the toughness of rugby league. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“For people to suggest at the time I was intervening to help USA beat Jamaica – that was asinine.
“I was superseded by the referee, which appalled me at the time – particularly on American soil.”
Kazanjian says the concussion issue has “exploded” in the US since 2010, when it was already a massive issue in comparison to the comparatively relaxed attitude employed in Australia at the time.
He admits, however, that most sports still don’t have independent medical officers but reckons the days of doctors “having steaks and drinks with team owners” and doing their bidding are long gone.
The Pennsylvania physician says since 2010, the “crude” mandatory stand-down periods for different grades of concussion have been replaced with testing-based methodology.
“On one hand, this can get an athlete back on the field earlier,” he said. “On the other, if you follow professional hockey, you would know Sidney Crosby was out for almost a year and a half.
“It’s no longer a case of ‘OK, you know where you are, you can count to five, you know who the prime minister is, get back out there’.”
While it would be convenient to illustrate this story with an x-ray of a normal brain with one that has suffered multiple concussions, that would not tell the story.
“You can’t see lesion on the brain that indicate ‘when this clears up, the injury is gone’,” said Kazanjian.
“Someone could register a normal CT scan and actually have suffered chronic trauma.
“We have identified something called CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. It leads to irreversible psycological problems – depression, memory loss, people who want to commit suicide or forget where they are driving,
“In former athletes, it has caused alzeimers and the early onset of dementia.”
What does a doctor think when he sees a player stumbling? “The fact he (Wray) was stumbling around meant his brainwaves weren’t working properly.
“The big danger is in the second collision. That’s what research has taught us. That can be catastrophic and it’s important to get someone off to avoid that.”
Kazanjian says he was encouraged by emails of support from NRL doctors in the aftermath of his stand three years ago.
“Vindicated? I wouldn’t say I feel that. I am just pleased that rugby league has moved to make it’s game safer for everyone,” he said.
“These people might have rugby league as their priority right now but they have jobs and family to think of. Our proirity is that they can provide for their children and function fully well into their eighties.
“That’s what’s really important.”