Hang on. You know, yes, what the HIA is for? It is to determine whether a player has been concussed!
But, seriously, surely no-one was doubting it? Apparently so. For under the current system, here is what appeared to be a clearly concussed man, with a recent history of suffering many concussions with increasing frequency, is lead from the field, and …
And what? Here he is, coming back on? He passed the HIA? He wasn’t concussed, you say, like we thought?
Around the country, many reacted in horror.
Up in Townsville, former Cowboys player Shaun Valentine – who retired two decades ago at the age of 26 after fewer concussions than Cordner has had, and still suffers terrible headaches – could barely believe what he was seeing, and feared for the Blues captain.
“I fear for Boyd – I don’t want him ending up like me,” Valentine, told journalist Tony Adams. “He has been a great player for a long time but you don’t realise the damage these head knocks do until years down the track. I have good days and bad days and I just accept it – it is what it is. But there is far more knowledge about the effects of concussion these days and I hope he heeds the warnings.”
To the expert eyes of Dr Adrian Cohen – CEO of Headsafe, devoted to reducing the impact of sports concussions – the whole thing was appalling.
“By the league’s OWN rules,” he says, “this was a category 1 concussion, clear and unequivocal for doctors, commentators and spectators alike, [for a player] with a concerning and recent concussion history which the whole country knows about. CATEGORY 1 = IMMEDIATE REMOVAL, NO HIA, NO RETURN. No wonder the commentators were concerned … they knew the rules were being flouted. And where were the NRL’s much-vaunted ‘independent concussion spotters in the stands so this doesn’t happen’?”
Blues coach Brad Fittler defended the return of his captain, saying: “There’s protocols, and we’ll stick to the protocols”.
OK. Let’s have a look at the key rugby league protocol: “A player who has suffered a concussion or potential concussion or exhibits the symptoms of concussion should not return to play in the same game (or on the same day), even if they appear to have recovered.”
So, what was it doctor? Flu? An ankle injury, perhaps, which meant the trainer had to assist him from the field? Tell all.
For Cordner to take the field again, and for Fittler’s defence afterwards that they had stuck to the “protocols” to stand, the medical conclusion must have been: Cordner did not suffer a concussion, or even a potential concussion, and he did not exhibit the symptoms of concussion.
Seriously? Are you saying that? Is it that we, and all the commentators, have got it wrong?
One who doesn’t think we did get it wrong is America’s leading sports concussion advocate is Dr Chris Nowinski, who closely watched the episode and replied to my queries with his considered view: “This appears to be another situation where the HIA is misused or misrepresented. It is common knowledge that concussed players can sometimes pass the HIA, so if Fittler truly believes that everyone who passes the HIA must be returned, those players are at serious risk and the coach is in dire need of concussion education and training on the HIA. Based on the video, the most logical explanation for Cordner’s behaviour was that he had a concussion. That is supported by the fact that the physio firmly grabbed Cordner by the arm to support him on the sideline. There is always a one per cent chance it was something else, but without an alternative explanation, I believe he showed enough concussion signs to force his removal and not return him that day.”
And here is the thing.
As one who for the last decade has followed and reported on the growing issue of concussion in sport – and the vast sums being paid out by those who get it wrong – it seems likely that if it was concussion like everyone thought, and Cordner develops problems, 10, 15, 20 years from now, his case for successful litigation is, in my view, extremely strong.
To recap: You have a player with a history of recent frequent and bad concussions. So bad, and so frequent, I, for one, have delicately called on him to do the obvious and call it a day.
And here he was, seemingly concussed again, but very quickly sent back out into one of the toughest cauldrons in sport there is.
In my opinion it was morally unforgivable, and legal insanity – but I will be interested to get an answer from the medical authorities. If Cordner had concussion and was allowed back out there, it is a clear breach of the league’s own protocols.
So I repeat: if Cordner wasn’t concussed, what was it, doctor?
And are you lot really going to pick him next week? Are you aware of the horrendous consequences, across the board, if he goes down concussed again?
I look forward to your own considered response.
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Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.