We have been blogging quite a bit recently about brain injuries in sports. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, we have solicitors in our personal injury and medical negligence departments who have specific interest and expertise in participating in sports, particularly cycling, equestrian sports, skiing, netball and running and in watching others such as the ubiquitous football and cricket.
But secondly and possibly more importantly, we have a specific interest in brain injuries at all levels and these often arise from sporting injuries. Horse riders are known to suffer from concussion far more widely than might be reported following falls and cyclists are very vulnerable to head injuries.
Our Head of Department, John Knight, besides being a keen cyclist, is also a trustee with Headway, the brain injury charity.
What we notice is that very often, brain injuries are very subtle and do get missed. Fortunately, techniques and tools for picking up and assessing brain injuries are a fast- growing area of medicine and we are getting much better at this, leading to earlier and better treatment for the injured person. As we do this, our knowledge and understanding of brain injuries grow.
This is being demonstrated very well with football injuries.
The BBC very recently reported on former England international and West Brom player Jeff Astle who sadly developed dementia and died in 2002 at the early age of 59. A neuropathologist said he died of a brain condition normally linked to boxers and caused by heading footballs. This was unheard of at one time and it is only as players get older and these conditions develop that we become aware of them.
The game is trying to do more to prevent these injuries in the first place with young players and training. New guidelines issued last July said professional footballers in England are to be limited to 10 “higher force headers” a week in training from the 2021-22 season.
In 2015, Astle’s family launched the Jeff Astle Foundation, which promotes care of others affected by the condition, as well as education about it and research into it.
Dawn Astle, who is Jeff’s daughter and a campaigner for players affected by neuro-degenerative disease (NDD) has been announced as the Project Lead for a new dedicated care department for such players, which has been set up by the Professional Footballers’ Association.
In addition, Rachel Walden, whose father Rod Taylor was diagnosed with an NDD after his death in 2018, will oversee an extended family support advisors’ team and former England captain Dave Watson’s wife Penny will act formally as an independent consultant. She believes his neurodegenerative disease was most likely brought on by head injuries and repeated heading of the ball.
It is a widespread issue and not just in top level football.
Only recently Wycombe midfielder Matt Bloomfield retired on medical grounds after the impact of a serious concussion, when a free-kick hit him in the back of his head against Exeter in August.
Ex-Manchester United and England midfielder and World Cup hero Nobby Stiles died in October 2020 aged 78 and a post-mortem found his brain was affected by a dementia believed to be caused by repeated blows.
On Tuesday, Blackburn fans launched a fundraising campaign to help with the £200,000 cost of care for the club’s former midfielder and coach Tony Parkes, who suffers from dementia.
Research last August showed defenders are more likely to have dementia in later life compared with other playing positions in football and In 2019, a study by Professor Willie Stewart found that former footballers were about three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative brain disease than the general population.
Dawn Astle described the PFA’s move as “significant step forward” and added:
“I will always continue to support former players and their families living with dementia now, but a key focus of this new role will be to strengthen protections for current players and future generations….players need knowledge to make informed decisions about their brain health.”
PFA chief executive Maheta Molango said:
“I understand that families have felt let down. The creation of a new, dedicated department is hugely important, but we are acutely aware that this is just a first step. We are determined to take responsibility internally, but also to ensure that we advocate on behalf of members for a co-ordinated, football-wide approach on this issue.”
However, John Stiles, son of Nobby, pointed out that footballers with these diseases, disorders and injuries need long-term healthcare, which often means residential costs and this does not come cheaply. He emphasised that there is still little help for these costs and called it “a disgrace”.
As solicitors dealing with clients with life -changing and catastrophic injuries we know only too well the cost of proper and adequate lifetime care amongst other things injured people need to get their life back on track. It won’t be the life they had before; sadly, we can’t turn the clock back in that respect.
But what we can do is represent our clients and try and achieve the financial settlements they require as an individual to be as comfortable as they can be for the rest of their lives.
Go to our website to see our client Mr Ian Lamb and solicitor John Knight talk on video about how his settlement following a successful medical negligence claim has enabled him to re-build his life.
If you think you or a member of your family may have suffered a brain injury as a result of negligence, then do get in touch with one of our personal injury or medical negligence solicitors for an initial discussion about whether a claim may be possible. Like Mr Lamb, it may be a life changing decision.
Contact us – call 01522 561020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org