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'Until last week I didn't know dementia was a potential outcome for any rugby player. That wasn't educated or taught to us'

By Online Editors

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Former England skipper Dylan Hartley has given his take on the concussion concerns that have blown up around rugby in the wake of last week’s revelation that 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson is suffering from early-onset dementia at the age of 42. 

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Hartley retired from playing in 2019 and while the ex-England forward didn’t want to open up on his own struggles with concussion, he believes the potential post-playing effects of the issue are of major concern given what has unfolded this past decade in American football. 

A major lawsuit was successfully taken against the NFL regarding ex-players suffering from dementia and a lawsuit that has been initiated in rugby involving Thompson stepped up in pace on Thursday with the delivery of a pre-action letter of claim to World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union on behalf of nine players being represented by Rylands Law.   

Appearing as a co-host on the latest episode of the RugbyPass Offload show, ex-England hooker Hartley said: “I have my own issues, I don’t really want to delve into what I struggle with and what my concerns are because I am fully aware this gets picked up and put in newspapers and whatnot so I’d rather keep it personal but I have my concerns. 

“I know a few guys involved and I’m in regular contact with them. That is the scariest thing, this isn’t like a doom and a scaremongering story, these guys have families and they are genuinely struggling. 

“It’s scary to think that NFL has had CTE and issues with this injury for some time and we play a very similar sport and we have never recognised CTE in our players. We have always seen guys that have had drink problems, bankruptcy, divorce, drug problems, self-harm, suicide dare I say it and we have always said things like they haven’t transitioned well which is a big concern. 

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“Look, these guys might not have transitioned well but a lot of those things are linked with CTE as well and it’s like isn’t it crazy to suggest that we haven’t hat CTE until now? It’s pretty scary for the game and for all those involved, there are families behind every story. 

“There’s a lot of people saying I would do it [their rugby career] all again but I have looked at these guys, these are guys who have got sore shoulders, sore knees, these are not guys who have early-onset dementia. 

“If I had early-onset dementia right now and you asked me would I do it all again I would say no because I want to live a long life and I want to recognise who my kids are, my wife and those sorts of things. If I could do it all again and have buggered knees and a buggered back, I’d take that chance. 

“But from when I started until last week, I didn’t know dementia was a potential outcome for any rugby player. That wasn’t educated or taught to us. The game is what it is, they are doing a good job of refereeing the laws of high tackles and they have taken a strong standpoint on red cards. 

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“A lot of people say the game has gone soft but for good reason seat belt tackles have been outlawed and all these things. The game is doing what it can in that respect.

“I remember going to a World Rugby conference in Monaco in 2016 and there was a whole load of things going around the table – what I actually said was contact training needs to be regulated because at the time my international environment was very structured.

“We knew how much work we would have in the week but then we would go back to the club environment where it was just up to whoever was coaching that day how they felt how long we would go for and how many we would do. 

“I said back then we need to look at NFL and how they regulate, almost have an independent organisation for club environments to feed into and be monitored because there is no way people should be experiencing concussion during the week. If we can eliminate those risks but again you want players to be conditioned for purpose. It’s a tough argument.”

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'Until last week I didn't know dementia was a potential outcome for any rugby player. That wasn't educated or taught to us'

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